Candidate Ethical Principles

Once your analysis is complete, what ethical principles or rules should you use to make a decision? What higher-order values should inform your judgment? Although you are the only one who can decide which among many ethical prin­ciples you will follow, and how you will prioritize them, it is helpful to consider some ethical principles with deep roots in many cultures that have survived throughout recorded history:

  1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (the Golden Rule). Put­ting yourself in the place of others, and thinking of yourself as the object of the decision, can help you think about fairness in decision making.
  2. If an action is not right for everyone to take, it is not right for anyone (Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative). Ask yourself, “If everyone did this, could the organization, or society, survive?”
  3. If an action cannot be taken repeatedly, it is not right to take at all. This is the slippery slope rule: An action may bring about a small change now that is acceptable, but if it is repeated, it would bring unacceptable changes in the long run. In the vernacular, it might be stated as “once started down a slip­pery path, you may not be able to stop.”
  4. Take the action that achieves the higher or greater value (utilitarian principle). This rule assumes you can prioritize values in a rank order and understand the consequences of various courses of action.
  5. Take the action that produces the least harm or the least potential cost (risk aversion principle). Some actions have extremely high failure costs of very low probability (e.g., building a nuclear generating facility in an urban area) or extremely high failure costs of moderate probability (speeding and auto­mobile accidents). Avoid actions that have extremely high failure costs; focus on reducing the probability of accidents occurring.
  6. Assume that virtually all tangible and intangible objects are owned by someone else unless there is a specific declaration otherwise. (This is the ethical no- free-lunch rule.) If something someone else has created is useful to you, it has value, and you should assume the creator wants compensation for this work.

Actions that do not easily pass these rules deserve close attention and a great deal of caution. The appearance of unethical behavior may do as much harm to you and your company as actual unethical behavior.

Source: Laudon Kenneth C., Laudon Jane Price (2020), Management Information Systems: Managing the Digital Firm, Pearson; 16th edition.

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