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Ethical Decision-making

What is it that makes “right” right? Over the centuries, civilization’s greatest thinkers have tried to answer this question. None have come up with an explanation that satisfies everyone. People’s ideas about what the right solution to an ethical problem is often depends on their perspectives.

You may have responded with one or more of the common perspectives most people use to decide what’s right or wrong. These four commonly used perspectives are utility, rights, fairness, and relationships.

The first way to judge whether an action is right or wrong is to examine its utility, or usefulness. Actions that bring positive benefits to the majority of people are typically right.

Say you choose a course of action because it serves the needs of the most people. In this case, you’re making your decision on the basis of utility.

You’d probably agree that a person who works for a living is doing what’s right. And you’d probably agree that a person who steals for a living is doing what’s wrong. From a perspective of utility to society, working to earn money and stealing are two very different things.

Working — Holding a job and working hard provides utility to society. The worker supports himself and produces goods or services for others to consume.

Stealing — Making a living as a thief doesn’t provide utility. The act of stealing benefits only the thief. The rest of society pays the price of combating crime.

The second way to judge right and wrong is from the perspective of an absolute standard. An absolute standard states that right actions are always right, regardless of their context or impact. These absolute rights define what members of a society must always be permitted to do or prohibited from doing.