From Ethical Dimensions of the Scholar, a professional
development module for 1989-91 Kappa Omicron Phi and Omicron
Nu Program Theme, developed by Dorothy I. Mitstifer, 1989.
This activity will apply ethical reasoning steps to ethical
dilemmas to develop a course of action.
Needed: Handouts - Ethical
Principles, Ethical Reasoning Steps, Case Studies: Ethical
groups of 5-8 persons (if total group is small, 3-4).
the worksheet and a case study of an ethical dilemma,
apply the ethical reasoning steps to respond to the situation
in an ethical manner.
on the meaning of the activity. Direct participants to
think for a few minutes and then share with the small
group: I learned that . . . ‘ I noticed that . . . ‘ I
had difficulty with . . . ‘ I discovered that . . . .
cases and ethical decisions with the large group.
(Facilitator presentation of mini-lecture)
activity used a four-step procedure (Goodwin, 1985) as a
basic tool for reasoning about moral dilemmas, and then
a course of action was determined. You didn’t find black
and white answers; you didn’t know whether you were choosing
the right action. That’s frustrating.
are no predetermined answers in most difficult ethical cases.
The difficulty we feel is not a matter of ignorance about
what is obviously the correct solution. (Goodwin, 1985,
(1982) concluded that there are four components of moral
the situation – In other words, the individual is aware
that there is an ethical dilemma, that the situation has
the potential to (or does) violate moral behavior.
a course of action – The individual uses ethical reasoning
to make a decision about what to do.
what one actually intends to do – Although the individual
knows the ideal course of action, there are usually competing
values. This component has to do with committing to the
moral value above all others.
what one intends to do – The individual has the ego strength
and social skills to execute good intentions.
to behave morally can result from deficiencies in any of
the four components . . . . Moral development entails gaining
proficiency in all these . . . processes (Rest, 1982, p.
L. (1985, Fall) Ethical theory in the practical context.
J. R. (1982). A psychologist looks at the teaching of ethics.
The Hastings Center Report, 12(1), 29-36.
J. (1986). Ethics: Theory and practice. London: Collier
following principles (Thiroux, 1986) are guidelines for
regulating ethical behavior.
– Human life has inviolable sanctity. “. . . it is always
wrong to act in a way which directly intends to harm or
to kill an innocent human person” (Goodwin, 1985, p. 7).
– Ethical decisions should involve the principle of the
greatest good for the greatest number. Doing good, in
addition to refraining from doing evil, is required so
that the consequences are good for the individual and
– This principle relates to equality of treatment and
fair distribution of benefits and burdens among members
– Although ethical action should be based on the truth,
this principle is complicated by issues related to who
has a right to the truth and whether or not it is appropriate
to withhold it. When do you know you have all of the facts
and can determine what is true? Confidentiality (contact-keeping),
related to honesty and individual freedom, poses its own
set of complications: What do you do when human welfare
conflicts with confidentiality? When do you break a promise?
Ethical decisions should consider the principle of self-determination.
“. . . treat human beings as ends in themselves, never
as means only” (Kant in Goodwin, 1985, p.7). Related to
this standard are the following complexities: Whose right
is uppermost when one person’s autonomy impinges on another?
Who should speak for those who cannot speak for themselves?
the moral dilemma. What is the ethical question?
and interpret the relevant ethical principles: value
of life, goodness, justice, truth-telling, individual
the conflicts among principles. If more than one principle
is involved, which one has precedence?
the moral decision.
a course of action—action steps: what and how, who,
Adapted from the theory of Thiroux (1985).
Studies: Ethical Dilemmas
and Joann were roommates at Ivy University. Although
Mary and Joanne were enrolled in the Dietetics major,
they weren’t in the same classes. Mary had started at
Ivy U, but Joanne transferred from Brown Junior College
at the beginning of her sophomore year. Knowing that
Mary was a good student, Joanne asked to borrow her
class notes. Mary didn’t mind. But when Joanne asked
to use one of her papers that reviewed the literature
on bulimia, Mary didn’t know what to do. Joanne was
a good roommate, and she didn’t want to lose her friendship.
Besides, Joanne was always generous with her. She often
loaned sweaters and other clothes and took her home
with her on weekends. How should Mary solve this dilemma?
was an undergraduate research assistant to his favorite
professor. Dr. Brown was active within the University
and was often busy conducting workshops at national
meetings or with speaking engagements. Doug had worked
with Dr. Brown for two years and had been able to virtually
take over the daycare project. Dr. Brown was pleased
with his work, and Doug was proud to be asked to submit
a written draft of the research findings. Dr. Brown
gave a few suggestions for revision, and Doug completed
the paper and delivered it to Dr. Brown’s office. In
a few days, Doug received a message, “Well done. Thanks.”
Doug graduated soon after and entered graduate school
at another university. That first year in graduate school
he had an occasion to choose a small research project
for one of his classes, and he decided to do a small
pilot follow-up study of his undergraduate research
experience. As he was updating his review of the literature,
he found an article written by Dr. Brown. Doug thought
it sounded familiar, and he checked it out. Yes, it
was familiar; it was his own work—word for word! What
should he do? First-year grad students don’t have much
power. Would anyone believe him? What would you do?
was an honors student at Big U. Her senior research
project compared dietary habits of women living off
campus in apartments with women living in dormitories.
Her hypothesis was that dormitory women would eat better
than apartment women. But she was surprised to find
little difference. She was so sure that she was right
and that the dorm women just didn’t cooperate fully
in reporting daily intake. So she just reported some
of the findings—the ones that supported her hypothesis.
Her Professor was impressed with her well-written report,
and it was announced that Susan was to be recognized
on Honors Day for her outstanding project. Susan didn’t
expect that; she realized too late that it didn’t really
matter with research what the outcome was. Perhaps the
award has nothing to do with her findings; maybe she
would have gotten the award anyway. But now what should
read the notice about a scholarship in education. She
needed more money for school next year or she might
not be able to return. She had decided to change majors.
But if there was a chance she could get that scholarship,
she could wait until next year to change to psychology.
So she submitted her application by the deadline. She
was delighted two months later to receive a congratulatory
letter. The Bay City Educators were delighted that she
had selected teaching as her vocation. Marylou hadn’t
counted on people being interested in her and concerned
about how their money would be used. What should Marylou
was a merchandising major, and she always enjoyed the
annual Charity Fashion Show that her department sponsored.
This year the department would work with Jacobson’s
Department Store, and Jan would be one of the directors.
She was excited when Wednesday arrived. She was to go
to the store to work with the fashion coordinator to
choose clothing for the Fashion Show. She found a great
dressy dress for herself. She could hardly wait until
Friday when it would be delivered for the Saturday night
event. On Thursday Jan was invited to a Friday night
Frat Party. She was so ecstatic to be invited that she
didn’t even think about what she would wear. She knew
she didn’t have any extra money; what would she wear?
Then, she got an idea. The fashion show dress would
be perfect. Nobody would know. And besides, the dress
would be worn once; twice couldn’t hurt. Yes, that’s
the perfect idea. During the fashion show, Paula, one
of Jan’s classmates, was astounded to see a dress that
she had seen the night before. No, it couldn’t be. What
should she do? Should she report Jan, keep quiet, talk
to her? What should Paula do?
accepted the nomination for President of the XYZ Professional
Club, thinking that he wouldn’t be elected. But he was.
He didn’t have much interest in the organization; student
organizations weren’t very important on campus anyway.
He knew that the treasurer and the vice president would
work hard, and it wouldn’t hurt his resume to include
a leadership position. So, he decided to show up at
meetings; he would do what he was asked to do. It didn’t
take long for the other officers and the adviser to
figure out that the president intended to be a figurehead
only. What should the adviser do? the officers?
had a work-study job in the Department Office. Twice
a week she filled in for the Department Secretary when
she had time off to take a course. She often helped
herself to office supplies in the closet. After all,
taxpayers pay for them; they were meant to be used for
education. She was using them for education. No big
deal. The Secretary noticed one day that the last of
the pens were gone; she was sure there was a whole package
that morning. Where could they have gone? She thought
to herself, “I was only gone for one hour. How could
they have disappeared? Some other things have seemed
to turn up missing on Tuesday and Thursday. I wonder.
It couldn’t be Marie; she’s such a nice student. What
should I do?” What should the secretary do?