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Framework for Moral Decision-making. Naval War College Theater Security Decision-Making Dr. Coty Keller. Challenge. Ethical behavior is a hallmark of the national security professional The difficulty is if often in the choice

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Framework for moral decision making

Framework for Moral Decision-making

Naval War College

Theater Security Decision-Making

Dr. Coty Keller


  • Ethical behavior is a hallmark of the national security professional

  • The difficulty is if often in the choice

  • Moral dilemmas are sometimes complex, making it hard to determine the “right” thing to do

  • Here is a framework* to help you decide

    * Framework created by Velasquez, Shanks and Meyer. “Thinking Ethically,” Issues in Ethics 1996

NWC/TSDM Dr. Coty Keller

Framework for moral decisions
Framework for Moral Decisions

  • This method does not provide automatic solutions

  • Helps identify important ethical considerations

  • Helps us deliberate moral issues ourselves, paying close attention to

    • The facts

    • Ethical considerations

  • Value

    • A guide for your personal ethical decision-making

    • Develop the moral thinking and behavior of subordinates and peers

NWC/TSDM Dr. Coty Keller

Steps in the decision process
Steps in the Decision Process

  • Get the facts

  • Apply 5 approaches

    • Utilitarian

    • Rights

    • Fairness

    • Common-good

    • Virtue

  • Decide after asking yourself 5 questions

NWC/TSDM Dr. Coty Keller

Utilitarian approach
Utilitarian Approach

  • Jeremy Bentham & John Stuart Mill, 19th century, establishing moral laws

  • Ethical actions are those that have the greatest balance of good over evil

  • Identify possible courses of action

  • Ask:

    • Who will be affected by each action?

    • What benefits/harm is derived from each?

  • Choose action that produces the greatest benefits and least harm

  • Ethical action is the one that provides the greatest good for the greatest number

NWC/TSDM Dr. Coty Keller

The rights approach
The Rights Approach

  • Emmanuel Kant, 18th century philosopher

  • People have dignity based on ability & right to choose freely

  • Other rights: to truth, privacy, not to be injured, to what is agreed

  • Actions are wrong to the extent that they violate the rights of individuals

  • The more serious the violation, the more wrongful the action

NWC/TSDM Dr. Coty Keller

The fairness or justice approach
The Fairness or Justice Approach

  • Greek philosopher Aristotle: “equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally”

  • Issue- is an action fair; or does it show favoritism (benefits to some without reason for singling them out) and discrimination (burdens people who are no different from those who are not burdened)?

  • Favoritism and discrimination are unjust and wrong

NWC/TSDM Dr. Coty Keller

The common good approach
The Common-Good Approach

  • Vision of society as community whose members are joined by shared values and goals

  • Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and contemporary ethicist John Rawls urge us to view ourselves as members of same community

  • Challenge: recognize and further goals we share in common

NWC/TSDM Dr. Coty Keller

Virtue approach
Virtue Approach

  • Assumes certain ideas towards which we should strive – i.e. honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, prudence

  • Once acquired, virtues become characteristic of a person- and a person who has developed virtues will tend to act in a way consistent with moral principles

  • To decide ethical problems, one asks “what kind of person should I be?”

NWC/TSDM Dr. Coty Keller

Evaluate your choices
Evaluate your Choices

Ask yourself 5 questions:

  • What benefits and harms will each course of action (COA) produce, and which choice will lead to the best overall consequences?

  • What moral rights do the affected parties have, and what COA best respects those rights? As Kant said, “can I honestly wish that everyone will do what I am about to do”

  • Which COA treats everyone the same, except when there is a morally justifiable reason not to, and does not show favoritism or discrimination?

  • Which COA advances the common good?

  • Which COA develops moral virtues?

    Then Decide

NWC/TSDM Dr. Coty Keller