Ethics and rational thinking

Joseph Okon Written by Joseph Okon · 2 min read >

Someone once said, “An ethical decision is an intelligent decision”.

Every decision in business or in our lives can either be driven by our emotions which could be fear, anger, doubts, etc. or driven by our rational thinking.

Rational thinking is simply the ability to think properly before deciding to act. While we subject our actions to thinking, we can then see more clearly the cause and effect of our actions and also bring in the long-term effects of our actions into proper perspective. This is what ethics is all about, it is acting in a rational way and having the long-term view in mind, not just taking actions that benefit you only in the short-term. For example, a person can decide to get involved in insider trading, which is the acquiring of confidential information in a company that has the ability to give one an undue advantage over the others in the stock market. Such a person that gets involved in this act is not thinking rationally. He or she only has the short-term benefits of making profits in mind, at the expense of others. He does not consider others who might suffer loss, like the shareholders of the company, because of his actions. However, in this case, an ethical person will think rationally in such situation. This will bring about some rational and intelligent questions like;

  • Is my decision right?
  • Is my decision fair? (i.e., will anyone suffer as a result of my decision)
  • Is it sustainable? (i.e., is it beneficial in the long-term)
  • Is it legal?
  • Is it ethical?

This list of questions is what is called the Tucker’s five-question model. It is seen in business as what guides every ethical decision. This affirms ethics as a rational thinking process.

A further analysis into Tucker’s question model

Based on the earlier illustration on insider trading, let us see how an ethical person will subject his thinking to this rational thinking process

  1. Is it right? This is a question that appeals to the conscience of people. Everyone knows what is right and wrong inwardly. The ethical person will think, this cannot be right as it will give me an unfair advantage over others in the stock market.
  2. Is it fair? Here he considers the implications of his decision to others. The shareholders will definitely lose part of their hard-earned money, people might lose trust in the company as it will deter others in the stock market from investing into the company if such act is exposed.
  3. Is it sustainable? Here he considers the long-term effect in comparison of what he stands to gain in the short-term. Maybe he thinks, what if I get caught, it might tarnish my image, my company and family name. Through this rational thinking process, he comes to a conclusion that although there might be a short-term benefit of profit-making, the long-term implications supersede what he stands to gain in the short-term.
  4. Is it legal? He knows insider trading is definitely not legal. At least that is an information that every investor knows. If he is caught, he could go to prison and possibly have his bank accounts frozen. He definitely would want to avoid this.
  5. Is it ethical? This sums everything up. Here he considers his own personal values and all other points listed above and decides not to venture into insider trading.

Conclusion As seen in the short illustration above, ethics is rational thinking. An ethical person is a rational thinker not an irrational thinker. Also, an ethical decision is an intelligent decision because it is subjected to the rational thinking process and comes out with a decision that is right, fair, sustainable, legal and ethical.

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