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Ethics Ops
Strategies for Effective Ethics

Choices Test

HOW TO USE THE CHOICES TEST
 
© 2012  J. Brooke Hamilton III, Ph.D.
 
 
Recognition of the respect owed to all persons gives a basis for three approaches to deciding right and wrong, the Rights Test, the Everybody or Extra Slack Test, and the Choices Test.
 
You may wish to begin with the discussion of Rights on the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics site.  Then return here to see how the Choices Test is operationalized and study the two examples linked at the bottom of the page.
 
 
1.  INTRODUCE THE TEST
     Ask “Are the people affected able to make their own choices.”  
 
2. WHY IS THIS A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG?
  • Things have value because people value them.
  • All people deserve equal respect as ones who give value to things. What I value has no claim to be “more valuable” than what you value.
  • So let others make their own choices based on what they value. Don’t choose for them except in special circumstances.  Children, for example, may not be equal because they may not know what they really value.
  • Those who have made promises, signed contracts, or made other prior commitments may not be free to act because of their commitments.
 
3.  APPLY THE TEST

STEP 1:  Am I giving others freedom to choose what they value?    
  • We are free to make our own choices if we not being forced or coerced to choose something we do not value.
  •  Are there any prior choices (contracts, promises) by which a person has limited his/her own freedom? 
STEP 2:  Am I giving them the information necessary to know what they value in this situation?
Information requires the level of information (or the opportunity to get the information) necessary to know which alternative best fulfills what a person values.  Practical test for whether the information is adequate: would that person choose differently if he/she had additional information?
 
STEP 3: Draw a conclusion:
Is the action unethical because it does not give the persons being affected the freedom and/or the information to choose what she/he values?
 
4.  STRENGTHS OF THE CHOICES TEST
  • The choices test reflects one of the fundamental ways of showing respect for the equality of other humans—respecting their ability to determine the course of their own lives by making choices based on what they think is valuable.
  • Many ethical violations in business and professional settings involve denying people information or limiting their freedom to choose.
  • The test reminds us that it is possible to determine what people value through direct questions, surveys, and focus groups. 
 
5.  WEAKNESSES OF THE CHOICES TEST
  • It can reinforce a simplistic view of human decision making that people are clear about what they value and make rational choices based on those values. 
  • The concept of freedom is the subject of much disagreement.  The line, for example, between persuasion and coercion can be difficult to draw.  When does making something look attractive take away from a person’s freedom to reject it.
 
SEE CASE EXAMPLES: 
  1. "Less Sugar" Marketing
  2. Phantom Expenses
For links to descriptions of ethical theories, go to Ethical Decision Making at the Markkula Ethics Center site.  For a discussion of the Rights approach at that site, go to Rights.
 
For a page of quick links to move between ethical theories and steps to operationalize these theories, return to the Markkula Links page.
 
  
 
This page was last modified on June 7, 2012 
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