How to Develop a Personal Ethical Framework

Ethical decisions require weighing the consequences.

Ethical conflicts and dilemmas are a part of the human condition. Aristotle, who was one of the first systematic ethical thinkers, described human beings as "social animals." In other words, the human world is a social world, and it is only in the social world that our humanity emerges. Ethical questions emerge in the social world because we have to live, work and interact with other people. Some people are dear to us and others are strangers. Ethics is concerned with the relationship between the self and the other.

Think and reflect about your worldview and values People have particular worldviews that inform and structure the way they relate and interact with the world and others. Our worldview and value system may be something that we are not fully conscious of. Our worldview and value system is shaped in part by experiences and influences that we may have little control over, such as parents, teachers and so forth. Taking the time to think about the way we see the world and writing our reflections down helps to make us more consciously aware of why we act the way we do.

Evaluate your value system. Try to adopt an impartial or objective view. Determine the qualities that you think represent your good points as well as your flaws and things that need improvement. Try to see yourself the way others see you. The German philosopher Hegel argued that our sense of self identity is only formed in relationship to other people. We may believe that everyone thinks that we are great, but the reality may be the opposite.

Broaden your ethical and moral ways of thinking through reading and other cultural activities. Reading novelists whose books contain moral issues and ethical dilemmas is a helpful way to expand your ethical and moral horizons. The novels of classic Russian writers such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and French existential novelists such as Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus pose thought-provoking ethical and moral questions. Reading the ethical writings of important philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche and John Dewey provides you with a wealth of ideas for thinking about ethics. Films and movies, the theater and artwork also address moral and ethical issues.

Write down a moral code for yourself. Think about the type of person that you want to be as well as the type of world you want to live in. A moral code is a personal statement that forms a guide for your own personal choices and preferences. Taking the time to broaden your ethical parameters should reveal to you that ethical systems come in different shapes and sizes. Write down a serious of questions that are important to you and determine how to answer them. For example, should one always tell the truth or do some situations justify telling a lie? In addition to answering the question, explain why your answer is the correct one.

Keep a daily diary. Write about the decisions that you made during the day as well as the different things that you did or didn't do. Evaluate your actions and decisions by your personal code of ethics.

Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.