Ethics for the Real World: Creating a Personal Code to Guide Decisions in Work and Life

Front Cover
Harvard Business Press, 2008 - Business & Economics - 212 pages
2 Reviews
We often make small ethical compromises for "good" reasons: We lie to a customer because our boss asked us to. We exaggerate our accomplishments on our r sum to get an interview. Temptation blindsides us. And we make snap decisions we regret.

Minor ethical lapses can seem harmless, but they instill in us a hard-to-break habit of distorted thinking. Rationalizations drown out our inner voice, and we make up the rules as we go. We lose control of our decisions, fall victim to the temptations and pressures of our situations, taint our characters, and sour business and personal relationships.

In Ethics for the Real World, Ronald Howard and Clinton Korver explain how to master the art of ethical decision making by:
Identifying potential compromises in your own life
Applying distinctions to clarify your ethical thinking
Committing in advance to ethical principles
Generating creative alternatives to resolve dilemmas

Packed with real-life examples, this book gives you practical advice to respond skillfully to life's inevitable ethical challenges. Not only can you make right decisions, you can acquire new habits that will realize the best in yourself and transform your relationships.

What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately it fell rather short of my expectations. It promises to give a comprehensive view of ethics as applied to the real world situations, but what it provides instead is a lot of examples and vignettes that try to showcase a certain moral dilemma. The stories are actually interesting in their own right, but in the end they don't provide a cohesive whole from which to extract important real world lessons. There are plenty of specific advices in the book, but they don't seem to fit any comprehensive ethical system. They are the kind of advice that you could easily pick up from a wise uncle or a senior colleague at work. The book is fairly light on ethical theory, which is not all that surprising considering its title, but one would still wish for a deeper grounding in the millennia of ethical thinking and practice. The authors claim not to advocate any particular ethical tradition or general approach to ethics, which I find a bit naive.
Some suggestions for dealing with difficult moral situations are quite ridiculous. The authors seem to have an inordinate appreciation of the power of rational persuasion in conflict-resolution situations. This may hold true for some people, but the kind of people on whom this would work are oftentimes the last persons who would put you in a moral quandary.
One constant theme that propagates throughout the book is the general aversion to lying, which obviously puts the author in the camp with those who advocate the existence of absolute moral imperatives. This is a viable moral stance, but in the real world there will be many situations where lying would be absolutely necessary in order to prevent some greater moral evil. The lack of appreciation for the trade offs between different moral actions is rather baffling.
Overall, this is an easy and readable book, but not the kind that will challenge your preexisting moral principles.

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Ethics for the Real World is a book that attempts to make it easier for you to make ethical decisions in your personal and business lives. Ultimately, this book proved less useful to me than I had hoped, being a fairly high-level analysis of most things. Useful insights in this book included the separation of issues into legal, prudential and ethical, as well as the three types of unethical behavior: deceiving, stealing, and harming. The authors point out that negative ethics are more effective than positive ethics. They also note that it is best to avoid ethical dilemmas beforehand, but if they can't be avoided, it is best to have an ethical plan already thought out. 

Selected pages


Skillful Decision Making
Almost Ethical
Draw Distinctions
Consult the Touchstones
Draft Your Code
Choose Action
Transform Life
Transform Work
The Elements of Ethical Thinking
Ethical Codes

Habit of Wisdom

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2008)

Ronald A. Howard is a professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering in Stanford University's School of Engineering, and the director of the Department's Decisions and Ethics Center. Clinton D. Korver is the founder and CEO of DecisionStreet, which provides Web-based tools to help consumers make important life decisions.

Bibliographic information