Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Business Ethics and Leadership » Golden Kantian Consequentialism, by Michael Josephson

Business Ethics and Leadership » Immanuel Kant

Golden Kantian Consequentialism (GKC): The Josephson Institute Model

Friday, December 24th, 2010

In developing the Josephson Institute ethical decision-making model, I modified and combined three major philosophical theories of knowing and doing right: the Golden Rule,Kant’s categorical imperatives, and Consequentialism into a three-step approach. I call this model Golden Kantian Consequentialism, or GKC.

1. All decisions must take into account and reflect a concern for the interests and wellbeing of all stakeholders. This step stresses the importance of considering the way a decision might affect others. It draws from both the Golden Rule and Kant’s rule of respect (the well-being of each individual is a moral end in itself).

2. Ethical decisions put the core ethical values of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship above other values. The second partof the model makes it clear that the core ethical values take precedence over other values. This is derived from the Kantian notion of duty, and it establishes the “Six Pillars of Character” as bedrock principles of ethical decision making.

3. If it is necessary to violate one core ethical value in order to honor another core ethical value, choose the option that you sincerely believe will be best for society in the long run. The final step focuses on outcomes and is, therefore, fundamentally consequentialist. Three crucial qualifications, however, distinguish it from pure “ends justify the means” utilitarianism. First, violation of a core ethical value is permitted only when it is clearly necessary to advance another core ethical value; second, a true ethical dilemma justifying violation of a core value occurs only when another core value is at stake; and third, the decision maker is bound by good faith to choose the option that is most likely to produce the greatest amount of social good in the long run.

Will the Violation of One Core Value Advance Another Core Value? The Josephson Institute decision-making model allows us to sacrifice a core ethical value only to advance another core ethical value. The concern here is to reinforce the assertion that the six core ethical values trump other values in the decision-making process. This aspect of the model also cautions against rationalizing essentially nonethical self-interests and treating them as if they were core ethical values.

A common way to create a moral dilemma out of a situation that is primarily about money or career is to assert loyalty — it’s for my family. If I lose my job, my kids will suffer. We must remember that loyalty alone cannot usually justify the violation of other ethical principles. If it could, the whole of ethics and morality would fall to pieces. We do have special duties to our families, but these duties are to be carried out within the constraints of the ethical rules that govern all our conduct. Self-delusion is a powerful anesthetic. There is a tendency to believe that if I’m not doing it for myself — that it’s for my family, my company, my country — then different ethical rules apply. A closer look at the situation often reveals that our supposed good intentions and noble motives are often suspect. Self-interest is really quite a bit more involved in the decision.

The fact is that we often operate on an instinctive, unreflective level that presumes, and invariably exaggerates, the importance of personal and professional goals. More objective scrutiny would reveal that in many cases we are motivated by the desire to get the job done, to build our reputations, to satisfy our professional pride, or simply to win, and that our claims of more noble motives are just camouflage.

Will the Choice Produce the Greatest Social Good in the Long Run? The final aspect of the Josephson Institute model requires us to think of our decisions in a broader social context and in the long-term. This aspect of the model is vulnerable to manipulation by those who know what they want to do and are simply trying to construct a plausible moralrationale for doing it. If I want to rig the results, I can. But then why use any ethical decision-making model at all? Why not save time and just do what I want to do? Using a decision-making model in the first place, after all, presumes a level of good faith. I must want to do the right thing. An ethical decision is one that we would want others to make in similarcircumstances. It isn’t a short-term expedient to get us through the night. It is the kind of decision that will advance the moral quality of society. If everybody did it, would it be a good thing.

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