Dr. Kenneth Goodpaster, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of St. Thomas

One way to think through a decision is to use the “four avenues.” Each “avenue” provides a different way to think about an issue. By working through all avenues, the final outcome is more likely to be ethically strong.

The four avenues are:

  • Interests
  • Rights
  • Duties
  • Virtues

Four Avenues Approach: Interest-Based, Rights-Based, Duty-Based, Virtue-Based

Let’s start with the “interest-based” avenue. In this avenue, you look at who has an interest in the outcome of the issue you are facing. The best decision here will be the one that satisfies the interests of the most parties, as shown below:

Four Avenues Approach: Interest-Based, Q: Who has an interest in this issue/decision? A: the decision which meets the interests of MOST stakeholders. Challenges to consider: Who determines what interests are the priority? What if the majority of interest is indeed in the wrong interest?

For the rights avenue, consider who has rights that might be affected by the decision. The best decision here is to avoid infringing on anyone’s rights.

Four Avenues Approach: Rights-Based, Q: Who has a right (i.e. life, voting, freedom, choice, privacy) in this issue/decision? A: the decision ensuring people’s rights are not infringed/taken away. Challenges to consider: Whose rights are the most important? Who gets to decide whose rights are the priority?

Next, think about the related duties. Who has a duty related to this issue? There may be a duty of loyalty by a board member toward a business, for instance. Here, look for the outcome that fulfills the needs of the larger community.

Four Avenues Approach: Duty-Based, Q: Who has a duty (i.e. duty of loyalty, duty to protect others, duty not to harm) in this decision? A: the decision that fulfills the needs of the larger community. (I.e. A decision to not pollute water because it is the orgs duty to protect the health of society.) Challenges to consider: Is this avenue too focus on societal needs? Who decides which duty is a priority?

Finally, look at the virtues involved. What virtues are most important in this case? Is it most important to be honest or to be fair, for instance?

Four Avenues Approach: Virtue-Based, Q: What are the virtues most important in this issue/decision? A: There are many virtues, but the most important for your decision is to define what virtues are key in your organization (i.e. fairness, honesty, courage, etc.) Challenges to consider: Is any virtue universally recognized? Who decides what virtues are the priority?

By “walking” down each of the avenues, you can analyze your issue from a range of different perspectives to reach the best outcome.

Run your analysis... Describe the Four Avenues, Discern your thoughts for each avenue, Decide your answers for each avenue, Defend your answers across ALL avenues!

The Four Avenues used by permission of Dr. Kenneth Goodpaster.