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Home arrow Sociology arrow Humanitarian ethics : a guide to the morality of aid in war and disaster

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Different Types of Choice

The range of different situations faced by agencies and individuals in their work usually boils down to a few common types of choice. These different choices are distinguished by four main factors that shape the choice in a given situation:

  • • different levels of knowledge and certainty
  • • different levels of feasibility
  • • competing values and principles
  • • different levels of loss from choosing one thing over another.

In other words, some choices are difficult because they are not entirely clear. Some are hard because it is not possible to do what you really want to do. Other choices are difficult because choosing one good thing inevitably leaves other good things undone. Some choices are hard because they enable bad things by others. These generalizations will make more sense if we look at particular examples of each type of choice.

An Obvious Choice-High Levels of Certainty

This is the best choice to have. In this choice, both moral certainty and practical feasibility are high. In other words, it is clear what one should do and one is clearly able to do it. For example, in a humanitarian operation, this might involve a simple impartiality choice where a nutritional survey shows clearly that children in district A are much more malnourished than children in district B. Your agency is politically and logistically able to operate easily in either district. In this choice, the evidence makes clear the area of greatest need and indicates the best choice with a good degree of certainty. Your humanitarian programme should focus on district A.

In obvious choices, moral certainty is high so that a range of alternatives can easily be ranked as best, good or bad. Agency ability to take the best course of action is also high, meaning that operational feasibility is not in question. Some moral philosophers like to use equations and might represent a choice of this kind as:

A < B so OA (where O ought to do)

In this situation, because of high levels of certainty and feasibility, it is clear that doing A is better than doing B and so you ought to do A.

 
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