Social Justice and Good Decision Making

Posted on: April 15th, 2015

Dr. Joan M. Phillips,  Chairperson & Professor in the Department of Marketing at the Quinlan School of Business discusses the importance of social justice in decision making skills.


A socially just society requires good decision making. As a professor in Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business this belief inspires both my teaching and research. I teach current and future managers how to make good decisions and my research seeks to understand how personal values drive consumer and managerial decision making.


Although most agree that good decision making is the cornerstone of a socially just society, we can’t seem to agree on what constitutes a good decision. Turn to any news source and you will learn how “polarized” we are becoming (or have become) as a society. A search of leading news sites finds several articles reporting on the polarization of political parties in Congress, presidential candidates, and the economic outlook. At Loyola University Chicago The Phoenix reports that our own campus is engaged in a polarizing debate. There is even research that shows we are polarized on whether polarization is good for society. So, what does it mean to be polarized? Simply, it means that we have dug in our heels. We have become entrenched in our opinions and concentrated around opposing extremes. Each “side” not only believes that their position is right, but also, that the “other” side is wrong.


So, how did we become so polarized? We chose to be. However, not all aspects of our choice may have been conscious to us. Humans are notorious “cognitive misers.” That is, we like to take mental short-cuts because we prefer decisions that are (or appear to be) easy. Yet, making good decisions around complex issues is hard work requiring a balanced trade-off of values. That doesn’t mean that we should always agree, but we should be mindful that our decision making shortcuts don’t become “traps” (or biases) that short-change our values. Good decision making, therefore, requires that we work to reveal those values and expressly think through the trade-offs between them.


Values are enduring beliefs about a preferred “end state” and ALL decisions—whether virtuous or not-so-virtuous—are “values-based.” Decision makers fall into biases, or traps, when they fail to evaluate decisions in a comprehensive way that focuses on values trade-offs.


Decision mapping can help ensure a comprehensive evaluation. Decision mapping begins with specifying the choice options (preferred and non-preferred), and then identifies the short-term consequences of the decision and its positive and negative poles (pros and cons). Longer-term outcomes of the consequences are specified next, and the final step identifies the personal value, or desired end-state. Two key features of decision mapping are (1) the inclusion of poles, the positive and negative elements of each choice option, and (2) the values trade-off occurs at the end of the exercise.


logic chart

Consider the decision map above. We fall into a “polarizing” confirmation bias, or trap, when our decision making weighs the pros of our preferred choice option (AV) against the cons of the non-preferred option (DV)—hardly a fair comparison. A more balanced decision would consider both poles of each option. Here the decision maker trades-off the results of the two positive poles (AV vs. CV) and the two negative poles (BV vs. DV)—a more just comparison.

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