How Good People Make Tough Choices Summary By Rushworth Kidder

How Good People Make Tough Choices Review

Short Summary

  • "This book aims to equip individuals, communities, nations, and humanity as a whole with the tools to navigate ethical quandaries through a comprehensive analysis of the dilemma paradigm and principles of ethical decision-making."

Foundations Of Morality And Ethics and Moral Temptation

The terms morals and ethics are used interchangeably in the book. Kidder states, “We will not survive by a morality of mindfulness. We will survive where reason moderates the clash of values and intuition schools our decision-making. There is no better way for good people to make tough choices”.

Right Vs. Right

Rushworth Kidder teaches us how to make hard choices when faced with an ethical dilemma of right vs. right scenarios. Such as being stuck between an urge to preserve the environment or encouraging industrialization for poverty alleviation. It helps us to resolve tough choices through energetic self-reflection.

The scenarios involving the right vs. the wrong standards are not the book’s subject. It only addresses good people with sound moral values and ethics who show moral courage to stand against the tough choices of right vs. right and the requirements of deontological ethics. One weakness of radical pluralism is its difficulty in explaining why we should regard people as equal and possessing equal rights.

Ethical Dilemma

Cultural relativism seeks to make all people equal by making all cultures equal. Different people find their happiness in different ways. Tolerating diversity is the foundation of cultural relativism. On the other hand, people with twisted codes of ethics or no morals at all will never see the problem of tough choices in the first place because they are devoid of ways of ethical thinking and inherently follow individualism. The book’s subject is an ethical dilemma, whereas moral temptation is reserved for right and wrong choices with a clear case of wrongdoing.

Devising a code of conduct that sufficiently defines the ethics of a group is difficult. Kidder has laid out ten commandments as models of a code of conduct. They are boy scout law, the west point honour code, the rotary McDonnell four-way test, the Minnesota principles, the McDonnell-Douglas code of ethics, and bad values.

Examples of Ethical Dilemmas

The book presents case studies involving right vs. right, which forces good people to make tough choices. Tough choices, typically, are those that pit one “right” value against another right. Moulton’s definition of ethics is “Obedience to unenforceable.”

  • It is right to resort to humanitarian interventions to stop violence, and it is equally right to refrain from interfering in other sovereign nations’ internal affairs.
  • It is right to conserve forests for wildlife, and it is equally right to create jobs for loggers.
  • It is right to provide free education through government public schools, and it is equally right to prevent the constant drain on the national exchequer.
  • It is right on the part of states to refrain from violating the private spaces of individuals and equally right to look out for elements involved in terrorist activities.

Kinds Of Dilemma Paradigms

There are four paradigms, and each side of these paradigms is rooted in our morality and ethical issues. Using the following four paradigms, we can identify and evaluate complex and multifaceted dilemmas and reduce them to common patterns.

Truth Versus Loyalty

Stan works for a large defence electronics firm that resorts to layoffs during periods of financial strain. Stan fears for his job and asks his friendly boss about his future. His boss privately discloses that the company is thinking about layoffs soon, and Stan’s friend Jim is on the list and asks him to keep it a secret. Jim approaches Stan to enquire about the rumours that his name was on the list. This puts Stan in the truth vs. loyalty dilemma. Should he disclose the truth to his friend or keep his loyalty to the boss? Both sides were correct, and he could not do both.

Individual versus Community

In the mid-1980s, an administrator of residential care facility received a letter from the hospital informing him about the possibility of ads in four elderly residents of his care facility who visited their hospital for surgery. This puts the administrator in a dilemma where he has to choose between the greater good of the community and honouring the individual rights of the four elderly residents of his care facility.

Short-term versus long term

When people have to leave their secure jobs and step out of their comfort zones after leaving their families behind, they face this kind of dilemma.

Justice versus mercy

People in authoritative positions face this kind of dilemma too often, where they have to choose between their occupational duties and the human need to show mercy in some cases.

Resolving the dilemmas of ethical living

The book suggests that after analyzing the difficulty and fitting it into the above paradigms, the next step is to resolve them by determining which side is the nearest right for the circumstances. And this requires principles of the decision-making process extracted from different philosophies.

End-Based Thinking

Essentially based on the philosophy of Utilitarianism that preaches, “Do whatever produces the greatest good for the greatest numbers.” It is the lynchpin of the public policy debate and the guiding principle of legislatures who always embrace community and make laws in the interests of the public. According to ethical thinkers, the central plank of this approach is the deep assessment of consequences, a kind of “forecasting of consequences.”

Rule-Based Thinking

Extracted from the philosophy of German philosopher Immanuel Kant, “Follow only the principle that you want everyone else to follow,” or whatever you do, will become a universal standard for everyone. It is another form of moral reasoning and depends on principles of rationality.

Care-Based Thinking: The Golden Rule

The ethos of this rule is putting the love for others first, “Do to others what you would like them to do to you.” It is based on the philosophy of reversibility. Before taking any action, one should pause, reverse the scenario, and put himself at the receiver’s end. Love, compassion and an obligation to help others are the core values of religions and spirituality.

Six Stages Of Moral Judgement

Lawrence Kohlberg conducted a study on boy scouts of a school from ages 10 to 16 in the 1950s and categorized their responses to hypothetical moral dilemmas into six analytical stages.


Stage 1: Fear of punishment

Stage 2: Individuality and a sense of equal exchange, objectivity, and fairness


Stage 3: Exhibit and value the expectations of others and stereotypes of “good behavior” based on love and compassion and a sense of caring based on the golden rule.

Stage 4: Recognition of a generalized moral system.


Stage 5: Recognition of utilitarianism

Stage 6: Development of commitment to universal moral principles of justice, equal human rights, and individual dignity.

Ethics, Laws, and Civil Disobedience

Character is what you do when no one is watching is the one definition that explains upholding morals and ethics in the absence of fear of punishment. But our existence as a society demands the formulation of laws as ethical precepts for compliance with universal ethical standards. Still, what if laws are unjust and run counter to the ethical standards designed to uphold and unfairly penalize the subjects? In these situations, the need for civil disobedience arises. Whoever dares to take this course of action must be willing to bear the consequences. When there are unjust laws, people tend to think only about their immediate family, reject potential ethical thinking (civic obligations), and lean toward selfish individualism by sacrificing social norms, which is the core value of our existence as a community.

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