S1E5 – A: The DREMSI Method, taking-decisions

In this section we introduce the decision making logic used in the DREMSI theory; to provide the right context we review the most common judgment logics in the world of Ethics.

The parable of the blind men and the elephant is a very famous story that perfectly indicates the current state of ethics. This is a story about a group of blind men that have never come across an elephant before, and one day they have to describe what an elephant is simply by what they can touch. Each person touches only part of the elephant (the leg, the tusk, the tail) and provides a description of it, making claims on what an elephant is. The one touching the leg argues that an elephant is like a tree, strong and rigid; the one touching the nose argues that is like a snake, flexible and constantly moving. If we look at all the different ethical philosophies available, we can see something very similar, they all have grasped different parts of the beast and to a large degree accurately described their parts, but they fail to visualize the concept in full, missing many critical aspects of the whole operates.

In the previous episode we reviewed in detail how to identify the injuries during an ethical dilemma, now has come the time to focus on making decisions, on how to structure the information and how to decide on whether one should take one action over the other. As such we will be delving into the normative component of this ethical theory.

The juice of any ethical theory lies in its ability to justify actions consistently across dilemmas. Two of the most common justification processes in ethics are utilitarianism (a quantification process in which an action is justified if it provides the greatest happiness) and deontology (a rule base model rule in which an action is justified based on the following of the rule). In a similar fashion, DREMSI has unique guidance to make decisions, which can be summarized in the below statement:

“Based on the role we play; we should minimize the injuries we cause to others without breaking other social norms. We might break other social norms in the prevention of critical injuries, without causing another critical injury. “

There is much more to unpack on this guidance that will be discussed in this episode, the objective is to provide details on how to make decisions using the statement above. The episode will follow a very linear process:

  • Section A – We review famous ethical theories and how they justify actions, a very brief review to provide the right context to introduce the normative logic behind DREMSI.
  • Section B – We begin the process by selecting the standpoint that causes the least damage and contrasting the options with other social norms in jeopardy. At this point, we can make a decision based on the role we play.
  • Section C – We conclude with a final question if one should go beyond their role expectations and behave altruistically or seek social change.

The big three (Deontology, Utilitarianism and Social Contract).

Let us begin the episode with a short view of the justification logic of ethical theories. In simple terms, we will review “the logic applied in the decision that justifies the decision is the best one to take”. Is the answer to the question, how do you know that action is better than the other?

The idea is to provide a consistent logic to the dilemmas, a logic that can be applied across multiple settings and that it provides the most benefits. The three most influential logics in the field of ethics: Deontology, Utilitarianism and Social Contract:

  • Deontology, a philosophy made famous by Immanuel Kant. This is a rule-based theory, in other words, the logic for decision-taking is justified in the rules that exist a priori action. I guess is easy to relate if we take the ten commandments from the Christian religion. The answer to the question, Why did you choose that action? is justified in the following of specific rules, in the accuracy of following command.
  • Utilitarianism, presented by Jeremy Bentham and improved by John Stuart Mill. This is a quantity-based approach, with the particular objective to bring the largest happiness. The answer to the question, Why did you choose that action?  Is justified by a quantifiable feeling that the option selected brings the highest happiness among all.
  • Social Contract, This theory became famous through the work of Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Lock. This is a people-based approach, a sort of democratic process. The logic is justified in opinions, in the support from everyone involved. The answer to the question, Why did you choose that action?  Is justified because is the one that the largest number of people would agree is the best.

These three philosophies are strongholds in the world of ethics and while they are relatively old, many of their ideas are still very relevant to today’s research. These philosophies have served as an inspiration for many variations; among many of these variations, I want to share two theories in particular that have influenced greatly this work.

Rawls’s Theory of Justice and Parfit’s Triple Theory

Theory of Justice

Inspiring by its attention to social position, we have the renowned Theory of justice. This is a perspective shared by American philosopher John Rawls in 1971 and follows the same logic of a social contract but with a few modifications to address some of the issues of social contract theories, in specific bias and favouritism. To fix the problems mentioned, it introduces an interesting twist in decision making,  the veil of ignorance, the idea that when making a decision, one should make it using a veil of ignorance, a veil in which you know nothing of yourself and your natural abilities you are ignorant of your position in the group. This thought exercise is for you to become impartial in your judgement. The answer to the question, Why did you choose that action?  Is justified because this is the action the majority would have chosen if they didn’t know who they would be in society if they were under the veil of ignorance.

I really enjoyed this theory because of the special attention to the position of someone in society and how it influences decision-making. An important difference lies in what we aim to achieve, while DREMSI is aimed at the ethics in everyday interaction, the theory of justice aims to bring forth the idea of “Just institutions”, an idea applied at the government level and strongly related to the concept of fairness. In a way, the theory of justice is more a political philosophy than an ethical one.

Triple Theory

Inspiring by its level of logical innovation, we have the work of British philosopher Derek Parfit and his Triple Theory presented in the book “On what matters”. In this book, Parfit explored in great detail the logic behind different versions of deontology, consequentialism and social contract. In the end, he highlighted how all the major ethical theories are “walking on different sides of the same mountain” and so he builds up his own theory combining the mechanism of the three of them:

“one is unethical if one breaks a rule that everyone agrees to be the best”

Everything comes to place in one fine statement, like pieces of a puzzle. In the triple theory, the answer to the question, Why did you choose that action?  Is because this follows a rule that everyone agrees to be the best.  

It is hard to deny that Parfitt’s work has served as a blueprint for this thesis. I pretty much replicate his idea and combine multiple logics together. An important difference is that I go one step deeper into a contextual setting, using a role perspective to organize information and a clear objective in the minimisation of injuries.

With this short introduction of the main logic behind famous theories of ethcis, it’s time for me to formalize the DREMSI Theory logic for decision making.

The logic used in DREMSI

In the spirit of “purpose unifies, negative clarifies and repetition amplifies” before I present the justification logic, I just want to quickly re-emphasize the objective of ethics under the DREMSI umbrella: Ethics is a social norm, with the objective to minimize injuries to other during social interaction. Hence all the statements that follow will connect with this single objective. I summarize the direction as this:

“One should choose the action, that in the context of a relational space and social expectations that apply to our role, would minimise the injuries we cause to others”

Given that this theory relies heavily on the role we play, it becomes more appropriate to express the logic as:

Based on the role we play, one should choose the option that minimizes the injuries we cause to others”

We can see the influence of the three schools; It is a rule, hence deontological, that requires us to quantify harm, making it utilitarian as well. Since the understanding of injuries is linked to a social agreement by the people within a relational space, we might argue that this logic is as well a social contract; I like to believe this is a quasi-social contract, it looks like it but it is not, this because the main priority of the DREMSI is the reduction of injuries and not the agreement of the group, hence there is a small tension with classical social-contract philosophies where the group opinion is the main criteria and everything else secondary.

I have stressed that Ethics is just a type of social norm and it is still contingent on others norms, such as taboos, traditions and the law. Because of this, I add a condition to the definition.

“Based on the role we play, we should minimize the injuries we cause to others without breaking other social norms, such as the law, taboos or traditions.”

Solving the rigidness of rule-based philosophies

A problem with rule-based philosophies is that they tend to become too rigid and one can become a sort of robot that only follows the rules without having the flexibility to adjust to the endless amount of context that we face. To make the thesis more human, closer to reality and more effective in the minimization of injuries, I use the injury thresholds as indicators to have exceptions to the rule. In the case of social norms, the exception activates when we face critical injuries as these are injuries in which people die or suffer irreparable damage (more on this in section B). Hence, the revised version including the statement would look like this:

The final version: “Based on the role we play; we should minimize the injuries we cause to others without breaking other social norms. We might break other social norms in the prevention of critical injuries, so long we don’t cause another critical injury.“

For example, if your wife is about to give birth and you are rushing to the hospital, this thesis would support the idea of breaking speed limits and parking illegally. I considered using serious injuries as the threshold for exception, but it becomes quite problematic once we enter a case-by-case scenario. I believe this is an area which we might have to revise further as we keep analysing ethical dilemmas and discover more of its applications.

Going beyond expectations

A critical problem of this theory is its strong reliance on the “role one plays”, which leads to the issue that one can justify its lack of action by the statement “that is not my responsibility” or “I am not in charge of that”. To fix this issue, during the decision-making process I include a final step, in which we have to review if it makes sense to act “beyond expectations”. Beyond Expectations refers to altruistic behaviour and social changes actions, hence at the end of the evaluation we ask ourselves:

  • Shall I go beyond my expectations and behave altruistically?
  • Is this problem so big that requires a change in Social expectations?

In section C I’ll get into all the details of this, but for now, a short taste of the guidance can be summarized as:

“When faced with a situation where critical injuries are involved, one should consider acting beyond our role in the prevention of such injuries, without causing another critical one”

For example, if you see a person being attacked in the streets, even if you are not a police officer you should consider helping the person so long you don’t cause another critical injury. The objective is that in the larger scene there is effectively a reduction of injuries that is beneficial for the group.

Closing remarks and Next episode

Just like in the parable of the blind man and the elephant, where every blind man described accurately the single parts they touched but missed to understand the whole. I believe that most ethical theories were not wrong, they just missed seeing the whole. I’m convinced that by using a complexity lens one gets a better understanding of the dynamics in every situation, this combined with the logic proposed, will make it much easier for us to make decisions. Making the whole process a better fit for real-life dilemmas where the complexity is high.

With the general direction of the logic explained, let us proceed with the next episode in which we review the individual steps to bring the normative theory.

NEXT S1E5 – B: The DREMSI Method, estimating injuries.

Pride by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

S1E9 – A: State Dilemmas – Announcement

Hola my dear readers, In episode nine of this series we are meant to analyse the ethical dilemmas that governments face, it has been a long journey and this is one of the last stops in this theory. While individual and business dilemmas were relatively easy to analyse using the DREMSI method, it has taken

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – D: Extended accountabilities

In this final section of Companies Dilemmas, we handle the controversial topic of Extended Accountabilities, aiming to define how far is a company responsible for the actions of external parties when running a business.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – C: Companies and the Greater good

In this episode, we handle how companies should consider solving «Greater Good» Dilemmas such as inequality and sustainability. A very common and valid question that doesn’t have an easy answer and even at times relies more on the government and the consumer than the company in itself.

Scroll al inicio