Imagine this: You are riding on a trolley one day when it loses its path and is headed towards five workers. The trolley is quickly moving and headed downhill with no chance of stopping. However, you realize you are standing right next to a lever which can change the course. If this lever is pulled, you will still hit one other person. What would you do? Would the situation change if you had a relationship the one person versus the five people?

Every day we face ethical decisions. These decisions may not include the pulling of a trolley lever, but they do put our moral compass and values into question. The following are five universal approaches to consider when making those decisions.

Utilitarian Approach

What benefits and what harms will each course of action produce, and which alternative will lead to the best overall consequences?

This question answers the dilemma of which option will produce the greatest benefits and least harm.

Rights Approach

What moral rights do the affected parties have, and which course of action best represents those rights?

The rights approach follows the belief that individuals have the ability to make their decisions freely. It believes that if it does not respect everyone’s moral rights, it is wrong to act.

Fairness/Justice Approach

Which course of action treats everyone the same, except where there is a morally justifiable reason not to, and does not show favoritism or discrimination?

This approach gives the individual the opportunity to reflect if the action is fair to the people.

Common Good Approach

Which course of action advances the common good?

This question helps drive our choice to decide if the action taken will be good for ourselves and the community. It opens the door to other questions related to the type of society we want to become and how to achieve that.

Virtue Approach

Which course of action develops moral virtues?

Each of us hold internal values and morals that we strive to maintain and hold on to. This question reflects on what kind of person you should be and what it will do to your character.