Classic Ethical Principles to Guide Responsible and Ethical Decisions


In today’s complex world, individuals, organizations and other stakeholders face ethical dilemmas in their day-to-day decision-making.

In order to adopt responsible behaviors towards others and to promote an ethical society, it is crucial to understand the classic ethical principles that underlie our values, beliefs and actions.

In this article, we will explore ethical principles such as utilitarianism, universalism, rights/legal, justice, virtue, common good, and the relativistic ethical approach. By understanding these principles, we can better analyze the ethical choices and options available to us.

Utilitarianism: A Consequentialist Approach “The Ends Justify the Means”

Utilitarianism is an ethical principle that asserts that an action is morally right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This means that we must weigh the net benefits against the costs of each option for all parties involved. By choosing the option that maximizes overall well-being, we are acting morally just according to this principle.

However, utilitarianism has limits. It can be difficult to determine what is truly “the greater good” for everyone involved, as it can vary based on individual perspectives and cultural values. Additionally, assessing costs and benefits can be complex and subjective, making it difficult to apply this principle in some situations.

Universalism: A Duty-Based Approach

Universalism is a principle that considers the welfare of all parties involved when making decisions. It seeks to identify the needs of the individuals and groups involved, as well as the choices available to them to protect their well-being. By giving equal consideration to all, universalism emphasizes respect for the rights and needs of every human being.

Business leaders who embody universalism seek to create ethical environments where all employees are treated with respect and fairness. They make decisions that promote the well-being of all stakeholders, whether workers, customers or suppliers.

However, universalism can also present challenges. Some situations may involve conflicting rights and needs of different parties, making it difficult to find a solution that satisfies everyone. Additionally, it can be difficult to define what is “right” for everyone involved, as it can depend on subjective and cultural factors.

Rights: A Moral and Legal Rights-Based Approach

The principle of rights is based on the recognition and protection of the moral and legal rights of each individual. Legal rights are defined by a nation’s laws and constitutions, while moral rights are considered universal and inalienable. Respect for individual rights is essential for an ethical and just society.

Leaders of ethical companies recognize and protect the rights of their employees. They provide work environments where every employee is treated with dignity and fairness. Similarly, ethical businesses strive to respect the rights of consumers and external stakeholders.

However, the recognition of rights can also be complex. Sometimes the rights of different parties can conflict, and it can be difficult to balance the rights of each. In addition, it can be difficult to determine which rights have priority in certain situations.

Justice: Procedures, Compensation and Retribution

The principle of justice emphasizes fairness and equality in decision-making. According to this principle, all people should be treated equally and have equal opportunities and benefits in society. It also means that unjust actions should be punished, while victims should receive fair compensation for harm suffered.

Ethical leaders seek to establish fair practices and procedures within their organization. They ensure that all parties are treated fairly and that decisions are made impartially.

However, justice can be elusive in some situations. There can be disagreements about what is actually fair, and subjective factors can influence decisions. In addition, it can be difficult to determine who has the right to punish or compensate in complex situations.

Virtue Ethics: Character-Based Virtues

Virtue ethics focuses on the type of person we should be, rather than specific actions to take. It emphasizes character traits such as truthfulness, practical wisdom, selflessness, happiness, and fulfillment. Ethical leaders embody these virtues and serve as role models.

Warren Buffett is an example of a leader who embodies the virtues of confidence and practical wisdom. He is known for his ethical and moral decisions in the business world, which makes him a model of virtue for many leaders.

However, virtue ethics can be difficult to define objectively. People may have different opinions about what constitutes good character, and it can be difficult to determine which virtues are most important in certain situations.

The Common Good: The Collective Interest

The common good refers to the conditions of social life that allow social groups and their members to flourish. It emphasizes the welfare of society as a whole, rather than individual interests. Ethical leaders consider the impact of their decisions on society and seek to improve living conditions for all.

A well-known example of promoting the common good is the Tylenol affair in 1982. Johnson & Johnson withdrew 31 million bottles from the market after cyanide poisonings were discovered. This costly decision was made to protect the health of the public, making it an act of social responsibility.

However, achieving the common good can be complex. The priorities of different people may differ, and it can be difficult to determine which actions will benefit society as a whole.

Relativist Ethical Approach: Contextual Ethics

The ethical relativist approach recognizes that ethics depends on cultural and social context. What is considered moral in one culture may be considered immoral in another. This approach emphasizes the diversity of values ​​and norms in different societies.

However, the ethical relativist approach can also present challenges. It can lead to conflicts of values ​​and violations of fundamental human rights. In some cases, cultural practices may be considered immoral by the international community.


By understanding classical ethical principles such as utilitarianism, universalism, rights/legal, justice, virtue, common good, and the relativistic ethical approach, we can better guide our decisions and actions. Each of these principles brings a unique perspective on ethics, and they can be used in combination to resolve complex ethical dilemmas. By adopting an ethical approach in our decisions, we can contribute to a more ethical and responsible society towards others. Let’s take responsibility for our actions, respect everyone’s rights and seek to promote the common good for a better world.



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