Philosophical Approaches to Ethical Decision Making

Philosophical Approaches to Ethical Decision Making

Human behavior can be influenced by internal or external forces. Internal determinism argues that the choices people make and the behavior they portray are as a result of the events and conditions that are within them, in their bodies or in their minds. It explains these using biological or psychological factors. Some of the biological factors that determine the influences of behavior and choice include the genetic make up, hormones, disorders of the blood and brain, diets, allergens and intellectual deficiencies. Personality tendencies can be determined by the parenting practices, education and influential and significant people. On the other hand, external determinism has it that people’s actions, choices and behavior are influenced by forces beyond their control. These external forces include the physical environment and the economic, social, political and cultural conditions (Williams & Arrigo, 2007). Some of them may be out of the control of the individual (Heath, 2003)

There are many factors that determine people’s influences in their lives. Some of the factors such as education and influence from significant people are both internal and external determinants. In both internal and external determinism, these factors limit a person’s free will. If people are going to make decisions based on the other people’s expectations, then it is not really free will. In the same way, since people do not decide their genetic make up and intellectualism, they make choices although they are limited by them. While people can limit their exposure to external factors, they cannot do the same for internal factors. For instance, people can change their environment, if they perceive that it is affecting them negatively. On the other hand, they cannot change their genetic make up or their hormonal deficiencies (Williams & Arrigo, 2007).

Internal and external determinism influence the criminal justice profession. Using different theories, one can see how some of the aspects can contribute to crime, by influencing a person’s behavior. People tend to be protective of their territories, especially when they perceive a threat to their personal space. They will tend to be aggressive to prevent any invasion. This is supported by internal determinism, which posits that internal systems, including defense mechanism, can determine how people behave (TSR, n. d.). Research conducted earlier showed how rats tended to protect their personal space when more rats were added in the cage. Research also indicates that crime levels increase when there is a huge population at one place (Williams & Arrigo, 2007). In prisons, long time prisoners have already established their personal spaces, and they will oppose anyone who tries to invade this area. In most cases, this opposition is usually aggressive and violent, thus it contributes to more crime committed within the prison walls. Probably, due to the struggle of survival, highly populated areas usually report the most crimes. As people increase, the competition for resources intensifies and people will do what they can to make sure that they survive. This shows how the physical environment can influence the criminal and justice system.

In some criminal cases, some people will plead insanity as the reason why they committed the crimes. As shown in the biological subdivision of internal determinism, people’s behavior is determined by their biological make up such as the brain and other internal systems. Therefore, when a person has a mental disorder, the biological approach claims that, having the condition is not the patients fault; rather it is because of their biological make up. They are therefore not able to control their behavior unless their biological make up is altered in some way. This exempts the person from the responsibility of their actions and blames them on their biological make-up. If the criminal justice system were to accept such a position for every crime presented, it would increase the number of people pleading insanity for their crimes, and this would be one of the factors that would heighten the rate of crime in the society and the number of criminals under mental evaluation. The theory however provided a fair means of evaluating people who have genuine mental conditions. Some people commit crimes because of the mental stress facing them and they do not know what they are doing. The approach provided a fair system, where the individuals could be evaluated and treated. Thus, it did contribute positively to the society.

Although it is not easy to determine the better approach to making ethical decisions, I think that internal determinism makes some important observations. People cannot change their biological make-up, although they might have the ability to change their external forces such as the physical environment. Internal determinism enables people to know that there are forces they cannot control. It gives many people a chance to accept themselves as they are, thus if used effectively, it contributes to enhancing a person’s self-esteem. It makes the society more accepting of different people and it has contributed to the development of knowledge of some of the mental defects.

Philosophical approaches to decision making are applicable in many areas and they have eased the decision-making process. They have made tremendous contributions to the criminal justice system. a greater understanding of psychological approaches have actually improved conditions in the correctional facilities, as they have noticed the negative effects of overcrowding and the importance of having individual space. The study of biological approaches has led to the realization that some people commit crime because of some defect or condition in their biological make-up, and the only way to help the individual is to manipulate this condition. Internal determinism is therefore an important element in the decision-making process.


Heath, I. (2003). Determinism. Retrieved from

TSR (n. d.). Revision: Psychology model answers-free will vs determinism. Retrieved from

Williams, R. C., & Arrigo, A. B. (2007). Ethics, crime, and criminal justice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall


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