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Obstacles to Ethical Decisions

Ethical obstacles and strategies

Why do people make unethical choices? There’s always a reason, but it usually turns out to be a rationalization that prevents the person from choosing the most ethical alternative. A justification may be “It’s not illegal,” “Nobody will know,” or “I’ve no other choice.”

Ethical obstacles usually come from within a person, rarely from others. When people create these obstacles, they tend to forgo difficult or costly solutions. Instead they choose options that are easy and familiar, or options they can gain from personally.

There are four common types of obstacles used to justify ethical decisions. These are necessity, no consequence, permissibility, and entitlement obstacles.

Necessity obstacles

A decision-maker creates necessity obstacles by insisting that one course of action is the only way something can be done. The person may claim, “There’s no other choice.”

No consequence obstacles

No consequence obstacles rationalize the violation of ethical principles based on the fact that there’s no clear and immediate harm to others, or the cost is just a one-time event. People often say, “It won’t matter just once,” “Nobody will know the difference,” or “It doesn’t hurt anyone.”

Permissibility obstacles

Decision makers encounter permissibility obstacles when there are no rules or laws to deter a questionable ethical choice. They confuse what’s right with what’s possible or legal. Decision makers often say, “There’s no law against it,” or “There’s nothing stopping us.”

Entitlement obstacles

Entitlement obstacles occur when a decision-maker wants to justify taking something away from someone else. The decision-maker often feels abused, disadvantaged, or unfairly treated. The person often says, “I deserve this more than he does,” perhaps feeling that they’re righting a wrong.