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Ethics-Related Theories

Five Moral Principles of Decision Making

Kitchener, K. S., (1984). Intuition, critical evaluation, and ethical principles: The foundation for ethical decisions in counseling psychology. Counseling Psychologist, 12, 43-55.

Kitchner's theory is popular in education circles and influences many college student development programs.

  1. Respect Autonomy:

    Individuals have the right to decide how they live their lives, as long as their actions do not interfere with the welfare of others. One has the right to act as a free agent, and has the freedom of thought and choice.

  2. Do No Harm:

    The obligation to avoid inflicting either physical or psychological harm on others may be a primary ethical principle.

  3. Help Others:

    There is an obligation to improve and enhance the welfare of others, even where such enhancements may inconvenience or limit the freedom of the person offering the assistance.

  4. Be Just:

    To be just in dealing with others assumes equal treatment of all, to afford each individual their due portion, and in general, to observe the Golden Rule.

  5. Be Trustworthy:

    One should keep promises, tell the truth, be loyal, and maintain respect and civility in human discourse. Only in so far as we sustain faithfulness can we expect to be seen as being trustworthy.
    Kitchner observes that ethical principles are commonly in conflict with each other as we apply them to real-life ethical dilemmas. There are no absolutes. Since no one principle is absolute, there may be opportunities when a higher standard of ethical conduct might require violating one or more of these ethical principles. However, Kitchner notes that violating any of these principles, because they conflict with each other or because a "higher moral purpose" might be served places a strong responsibility on the individual to provide a reason for rejecting a principle.