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 stressesthe importance of considering the way a decisionmight affect others. It draws from both the GoldenRule and Kant’s rule of respect (the well-being ofeach 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 ethicalvalues take precedence over other values. This isderived from the Kantian notion of duty, and it establishesthe “Six Pillars of Character” as bedrockprinciples 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 outcomesand is, therefore, fundamentally consequentialist.Three crucial qualifications, however, distinguishit from pure “ends justify the means” utilitarianism.First, violation of a core ethical value ispermitted only when it is clearly necessary toadvance another core ethical value; second, atrue ethical dilemma justifying violation of a corevalue occurs only when another core value is atstake; and third, the decision maker is bound bygood faith to choose the option that is most likelyto produce the greatest amount of social good inthe long run.
Will the Violation of One Core Value Advance Another Core Value? The Josephson Institutedecision-making model allows us to sacrifice a coreethical value only to advance another core ethicalvalue. The concern here is to reinforce the assertionthat the six core ethical values trump other valuesin the decision-making process. This aspect of themodel also cautions against rationalizing essentiallynonethical self-interests and treating them as if theywere 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 theJosephson Institute model requires us to think of ourdecisions in a broader social context and in the long-term.This aspect of the model is vulnerable to manipulationby those who know what they want to doand are simply trying to construct a plausible moralrationale for doing it. If I want to rig the results, Ican. But then why use any ethical decision-makingmodel at all? Why not save time and just do what Iwant to do? Using a decision-making model in thefirst place, after all, presumes a level of good faith. Imust want to do the right thing. An ethical decisionis one that we would want others to make in similarcircumstances. It isn’t a short-term expedient to getus through the night. It is the kind of decision thatwill advance the moral quality of society. If everybodydid it, would it be a good thing.