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Models of Ethical Decisions Report

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Updated: Jan 3rd, 2022


The case of the two rival brothers whose father has been suffering from disability and needs a kidney transplant poses a major challenge for the counselor on who to convince to donate the kidney to their ailing father. The revelation made by the mother of the boys regarding the paternity of the younger brother compounds the case even further (Ford, 2006, p. 127-128). As a professional who is in touch with the decorum of counseling practice, the counselor must apply the three models of ethical decision-making: utilitarianism, Wallace’s ethical contextualism, and/or Kantian Formalist Theory. This paper analyses these models of ethical decisions concerning the mentioned case.


The utilitarian moral philosophical model is based on the principle that the ultimate decision regarding the ethical rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by the outcome; also referred to as consequentialist principle. Meaning, if the outcome of an action is injurious to the second or third party, then it is unethical; whereas if the outcome does not cause any damage whatsoever, then it is ethical. In this model of ethical decision-making, an actor’s intentions are not considered important. It means that in this theory, an action is judged as either right or wrong solely concerning virtues of their consequences, nothing else matters (Rachels, 1998, p. 102).

In assessing consequences/outcomes, therefore, the only thing that matters is the amount of happiness derived from it, leaving all else irrelevant. As such, the greatest happiness principle becomes the most salient characteristic of the utilitarian theory. It explains the purpose of ethics as engendering the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. The fundamental moral duty is to produce maximum positive utilitarianism (much pleasure) and minimum negative utilitarianism (much pain) (Moldoveanu and Stevenson, 1998, p. 11).

The professional counselor involved in the above case guided by the ethical concept of utilitarianism must ensure that at least as many parties as possible are happy with his decision. Given the intense rivalry between the two brothers on who to donate the kidney to the ailing dad, and the chilling revelation of their mother on the paternity of the younger brother, it is convenient and justifiable, through the prism of ethical utilitarianism, for him/her to pick the elder brother as the donor. By so doing, the mother, the ailing father, and the elder brother will be happy and satisfied. However, the young brother will be the loser, but for his good and the good of others. Doing the contrary will wreck the family including the younger brother himself. It is that simple, three against one, who somehow is saved from the emotional breakdown (Ford, 2006, p. 128).

Wallace’s Ethical Contextualism

According to James Wallace, in making an ethical decision, an account of practical and moral reasoning, which is contextualistic and pragmatic, is necessary. This account is a strong alternative to some of the traditional views of practical and moral reasoning assuming either the existence of genuine problems and conflict or using unreasoned judgment should they acknowledge the existence of the problems. The reason is, this model acknowledges many different kinds of moral considerations thus, “reflecting the complexity of human life and the variety of problems faced in living such a life” (Wallace, 1988, p. 54). As such, the existent complexity of a set of moral considerations at any given time contains no absolutes of final solutions. The moral ways and practices of a given community are considered to have evolved as individuals and collective responses to problems of social existence. That is, “it embodies and reflects a people’s collective wisdom such as it is” (Wallace, 1988, p. 62).

Concisely, ethical contextualism is a process, both in interpretive and analogical complexity, of making a considered moral judgment based on reasonable alternatives within the context of the problem. The contextualistic approach begins by acknowledging the moral problem where a situation is assessed to identify the morally pertinent features. In the above case, for instance, there is the issue of the infidelity of the sons’ mother, which will be discovered should the younger son donate his kidney to the (non-biological) father. The family’s harmony and unity are at stake if this happens. There is the rivalry between the two sons, which spills over to who donates to the father. Thus choosing one over the other will aggravate the situation (Ford, 2006, p. 128).

It can be deduced that the society within which this family resides upholds values such as fidelity in marriages, harmony among family members, and the general emotional well-being of its members. The counselor who guides the family, must, as a matter of necessity, juxtapose moral issues of this case vis-à-vis the morally upheld societal values. Therefore, his/her judgment on the case must be buttressed by reasons that integrate these values. Such judgment, according to the writer’s opinion, will be in favor of the elder son to donate his kidney to the father. The first reason, it will assert his leadership role as father’s number two; second, it will alley the unprecedented damage that would be caused to the entire family by the discovery of his mother’s infidelity; and finally, it may earn him respect from his rival younger brother (Moldoveanu and Stevenson, 1998).

Kant’s Formalist Ethical Theory

Immanuel Kant radically deviated from the consequentialists’ trajectory concerning ethical issues. That is, he believed that the choice made by an individual has nothing to do with the desired outcome, but rather man does a good deed because it is morally correct. He argued that moral reasoning is not based on factual knowledge because reason discloses the basic moral principles. Therefore is fraught with such concepts as goodwill and humanity as an end in itself.

To Kant, the goodwill concept is his only superior thing in the world. Therefore, the ethical merit of desirable things is pegged on the goodwill of an individual. the term ‘will’ as used by Kant refers to the capacity of a person to act from principle. The reason is, a person’s morality is determined to act out of duty. This formalistic approach of Kant’s ethical theory ensues from strict adherence to duty, which is amplified by the principle of the categorical imperative (Dean, 2006, p. 81).

The categorical imperatives advocate that an individual should act according to the maxim by which he wills that his action will become a universal law, thus being fair to everyone else including himself. In addressing our case, what the counselor should ask himself concerning Kantian categorical imperatives is whether the impact of his advice to the family will be a good thing to every member of this family. The mother of the two rivaling sons has already anticipated the havoc that will befall her family should the younger brother be allowed to donate his kidney to the ailing dad. For Kant, it would be immoral for the counselor to support the younger brother for kidney donation. Considering the aspect of the universal goodness of his theory, all but one family member (perhaps the father), are opposed to his donation. On the other hand, he seems not to be motivated by the goodwill spirit, that is; the act of donation per se, for the motivation is an offshoot of pride over the elder brother.

Choosing the elder brother to donate his kidney will be considered a good deed insofar as adhering to the universal good is concerned. Converse to the younger brother’s case, all but one family member (the younger brother) will be satisfied. However, concerning the notion of goodwill, the counselor may be in dilemma discerning the overriding motivation of the elder son to donate his kidney. The most challenging part of the counselor’s discernment will be whether it springs from the mere instinct of saving his father’s life; as a sense of duty owing to his position in the family; or as a way of taking pride in the younger brother.


This case can be approached from different ethical models to arrive at a similar decision. From the utilitarian model, what is paramount is the outcome of the act where so long as no injuries are caused by any party the act is morally correct, and vice versa. Wallace’s Ethical Contextual model emphasizes reason and context as the basis of moral judgment. Upon assessing the two components of this model, the moral judgment that a counselor should make in the case study is advising the elder son to donate his kidney to the dad. The same judgment dominates Kantian Formalist Theory where the concepts of goodwill and categorical imperatives are in favor of the elder son’s donation.


Dean, R. (2006). The value of humanity in Kant’s moral theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Ford, G. (2006). Ethical reasoning for mental health professionals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Moldoveanu, M.C. and Stevenson, H. (1998). “Ethical Universals in Practice: An Analysis of Five Principles” Journal of Socio-Economics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School, (27)6: pp.6-721.

Rachels, J. (1998). The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Wallace, J.D. (1988). Moral Relevance and Moral Conflict. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

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