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How To Resolve Ethical Dilemma At Workplace
Our society has evolved tremendously in the last 20 years. Not just technologically, but in most parts of the world corporations have developed highly inclusive strategies inside the workplace. This means people of different ages, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses are welcome to work in the same common environment. However, different issues might arise because not everybody is aware of all the other social practices that exist beside one’s own culture. And this is just one possible cause of an ethical dilemma in the workforce. So if you want to learn more about this subject, and more specifically, if you want to find out how to resolve ethical dilemma at workplace, stick around. Some other hot issues which may cause anxiety and even ethical dilemmas in the workplace are the downsizing of personnel, the allocation and use of scarce resources, product quality and safety, the efficient management of the level of pollution and the equitable disposal of toxic waste, the rights of the employees, the changes in law and the developments in technology and different types of discrimination. Two or more of these factors if they were to overlap would produce an ethical dilemma. Of course there are many other possible reasons, these were just some frequent examples. But how do you solve the ethical dilemma and produce a solution which would be a suitable for all parties involved? 1. Figure out if the decision you are facing requires an ethical solution. Not every problem which you will have to face in the workplace will pose a difficult question for you. In order to establish whether or not you are facing a special situation you have to identify a conflict of interests. If a conflict exists, you have to determine who are the parties involved and what are the discrepancies in their requirements. The conflict could affect your own values and your decision making skills or it could come as a threat to the values of the company you represent. If that is the case, then you need to act. 2. Clearly state your cornerstone values. In order to successfully resolve an ethical dilemma at workplace, you must know your own ethic code. As a person, you must have a set of values you always respect. Well, the company you work for has a set of values which uniquely defines it. If it’s a delivery company, it may be rapidity and punctuality. You should also bear in mind that when you speak in the name of your company, you represent it and its values first and foremost, they automatically supersede your personal ones. 3. Ensure basic training seminars for you and your team. Lately, all the major companies are trying to educate their employees in communication and negotiation areas so that they
will respond appropriately if a situation occurs where they would have to use firm diplomacy. All sorts of communication techniques have become increasingly popular and these courses will probably become mandatory for every employee to have as part of his or her personal development portfolio. Some classes are specialized in ethical decisionmaking or active listening; others will teach individuals how to interpret correctly signs of verbal and nonverbal communication. As a starting point, these are very useful. 4. Try to project all the probable consequences of your decisions and actions. This isn’t an easy task, but it’s a vital part of knowing how to resolve ethical dilemma at workplace. It’s a more pre-emptive method than a solving one, but it’s better to prevent than to have to cure anyway. That’s why here you have to analyze all the factors and the people involved and try to be ahead of everybody. For example, if you have to let go of 10% from your total amount of employees, make sure that you establish a criteria for firing these employees so that they will understand the reason for their termination and not press charges of discrimination. 5. Form an ethical committee or an ethical hotline. This would be a special service inside the company available for employees only. They would have the option of consulting a specialist in case of an ethical dilemma. An ethical committee could schedule meetings in which they would offer examples of such difficult situations and their ultimate solutions. Role playing activities could also serve well to this purpose. 6. A risk evaluation is mandatory. You have to put things in perspective and try to assess all the actual risks involved when dealing with an ethical dilemma at work. 7. Acquire more evolved skills. These strategies would be a natural continuance to those mentioned earlier, at point number 3. After that preliminary process, you and your employees should become familiarized with reasoning techniques, critical thinking and conflict resolution strategies. These latest self improvement devices will help your company more than you can predict in the long run. In conclusion, what we have learned is that an ethical dilemma at workplace can have a number of different meanings. And what we know from experience is that both as an employee and as an employer you have to be prepared for tricky or unpleasant situations. That’s why you have to turn your team into a team of problem-solvers, who will think quickly on their feet and bring great results.
The Normative ethical theory (also know as 'Teleological Ethics') which maintains the rightness (or 'goodness') of an action is in some way determined by the consequences which follow from the act. If an action produces good consequences, it is the 'right' action. The question for the consequentialist to answer is, What is a
good consequence and for whom is it good? Different attempts to answer this question give rise to distinct versions of Consequentialism: 1. Hedonism - whatever brings me the most pleasure 2. Egoism - whatever brings me the most happiness: a. Psychological Egoism - everyone (as a matter of fact) always acts in their own best interest b. Ethical Egoism - everyone should always act in their own best interest i. ii. Individual Ethical Egoism - everyone ought to act so as to promote my well being Universal Ethical Egoism - everyone ought to act so as to promote their own well being
c. Utilitarianism - whatever brings about the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people : a. Act Utilitarianism - an action is 'good' just in case it brings about the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people b. Rule Utilitarianism - a rule is 'good' just in case it brings about the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people Most consequentialist agree that 'good' should be defined as pleasure, although not, strictly speaking, physical pleasure. J.S. Mill attempts to draw a distinction between pleasure which is physical and that which is mental.
From the Greek deon meaning right or obligation: The rationality of moral obligation. A Normative Ethical theory most often associated with the German Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) which maintains normative evaluations are rooted in some intrinsic feature of an action which gives rise to an obligation or duty. In a 'Deontological' system of ethics the consequences of an action are generally irrelevant to moral assessment. Rather, morality comes about from a rational agent's recognition of its duties toward others. These duties can be grounded in different ways, from divine revelation to objective rational principles.
As a branch of Normative Ethical Theory, Deontology can be divided into two main types:
1. Act Deontological Theories (which include) a. Situational Ethics (sometimes refered to as a prima facie Imperative Theory), and b. Existentialism 2. Rule Deontological Theories (which include) a. Categorical Imperative Theories (i.e., Kantian Ethics) and b. Divine Command Theories While each type of Deontological theory finds the locus of our moral obligations in different places, they all contend that 'goodness' resides in our ability to recongize and keep moral obligations; the consequences of our actions are of only secondary concern, if at all.
Descriptions of Ethical Theories and Principles
Created by Catherine Rainbow for Biology 372 at Davidson College Ethical theories and principles are the foundations of ethical analysis because they are the viewpoints from which guidance can be obtained along the pathway to a decision. Each theory emphasizes different points such as predicting the outcome and following one's duties to others in order to reach an ethically correct decision. However, in order for an ethical theory to be useful, the theory must be directed towards a common set of goals. Ethical principles are the common goals that each theory tries to achieve in order to be successful. These goals include beneficence, least harm, respect for autonomy and justice (1,2,3,4).
Beneficence The principle of beneficence guides the ethical theory to do what is good. This priority to "do good" makes an ethical perspective and possible solution to an ethical dilemma acceptable. This principle is also related to the principle of utility, which states that we should attempt generate the largest ratio of good over evil possible in the world (2). This principle stipulates that ethical
theories should strive to achieve the greatest amount of good because people benefit from the most good. This principle is mainly associated with the utilitarian ethical theory found in the following section of this paper. An example of "doing good" is found in the practice of medicine in which the health of an individual is bettered by treatment from a physician (1,2). Least Harm This is similar to beneficence, but deals with situations in which neither choice is beneficial. In this case, a person should choose to do the least harm possible and to do harm to the fewest people. For instance, in the Hippocratic oath, a physician is first charged with the responsibility to "do no harm" to the patient since the physician's primary duty is to provide helpful treatment to the patient rather than to inflict more suffering upon the patient (3,4). One could also reasonably argue that people have a greater responsibility to "do no harm" than to take steps to benefit others. For example, a person has a larger responsibility to simply walk past a person rather than to punch a person as they walk past with no justified reason (3,4). Respect for Autonomy This principle states that an ethical theory should allow people to reign over themselves and to be able to make decisions that apply to their lives. This means that people should have control over their lives as much as possible because they are the only people who completely understand their chosen type of lifestyle. Each man deserves respect because only he has had those exact life experiences and understands his emotions, motivations and body in such an intimate manner. In essence, this ethical principle is an extension of the ethical principle of beneficence because a person who is independent usually prefers to have control over his life experiences in order to obtain the lifestyle that he enjoys (1,4). There are, however, two ways of looking at the respect for autonomy. In the paternalistic viewpoint, an authority prioritizes a dependent person's best interests over the dependent person's wishes (1). For example, a patient with terminal cancer may prefer to live the rest of her life without the medication that makes her constantly ill. The physician, on the other hand, may convince the patient and her family members to make the patient continue taking her medication because the medication will prolong her life. In this situation, the physician uses his or her authority to manipulate the patient to choose the treatment that will benefit him or her best medically. As noted in this example, one drawback of this principle is that the paternalistic figure may not have the same ideals as the dependent person and will deny the patient's autonomy and ability to choose her treatment. This, in turn, leads to a decreased amount of beneficence. A second way in which to view the respect for autonomy is the libertarian view. This standpoint prioritizes the patient's wishes over their best interests. This means that the patient has control over her life and should be content with her quality of life because she has chosen the path of life with the greatest amount of personal beneficence. Although this viewpoint is more mindful of the patient's desires, it does not prevent the patient from making decisions that may be more
harmful than beneficial (1). Justice The justice ethical principle states that ethical theories should prescribe actions that are fair to those involved. This means that ethical decisions should be consistent with the ethical theory unless extenuating circumstances that can be justified exist in the case. This also means that cases with extenuating circumstances must contain a significant and vital difference from similar cases that justify the inconsistent decision. An ethical decision that contains justice within it has a consistent logical basis that supports the decision (1,3,4). For example a policeman is allowed to speed on the highway if he must arrive at the scene of a crime as quickly as possible in order to prevent a person from getting hurt. Although the policeman would normally have to obey the speed limit, he is allowed to speed in this unique situation because it is a justified under the extenuating circumstances.
Ethical theories are based on the previously explained ethical principles. They each emphasize different aspects of an ethical dilemma and lead to the most ethically correct resolution according to the guidelines within the ethical theory itself. People usually base their individual choice of ethical theory upon their life experiences (1,2). Deontology The deontological theory states that people should adhere to their obligations and duties when analyzing an ethical dilemma. This means that a person will follow his or her obligations to another individual or society because upholding one's duty is what is considered ethically correct (1,2). For instance, a deontologist will always keep his promises to a friend and will follow the law. A person who follows this theory will produce very consistent decisions since they will be based on the individual's set duties. Deontology provides a basis for special duties and obligations to specific people, such as those within one's family. For example, an older brother may have an obligation to protect his little sister when they cross a busy road together. This theory also praises those deontologists who exceed their duties and obligations, which is called "supererogation" (1). For example, if a person hijacked a train full of students and stated that one person would have to die in order for the rest to live, the person who volunteers to die is exceeding his or her duty to the other students and performs an act of supererogation. Although deontology contains many positive attributes, it also contains its fair number of flaws. One weakness of this theory is that there is no rationale or logical basis for deciding an individual's duties. For instance, businessman may decide that it is his duty to always be on time to meetings. Although this appears to be a noble duty we do not know why the person chose to make this his duty. Perhaps the reason that he has to be at the meeting on time is that he always has to sit in the same chair. A similar scenario unearths two other faults of
deontology including the fact that sometimes a person's duties conflict, and that deontology is not concerned with the welfare of others. For instance, if the deontologist who must be on time to meetings is running late, how is he supposed to drive? Is the deontologist supposed to speed, breaking his duty to society to uphold the law, or is the deontologist supposed to arrive at his meeting late, breaking his duty to be on time? This scenario of conflicting obligations does not lead us to a clear ethically correct resolution nor does it protect the welfare of others from the deontologist's decision. Since deontology is not based on the context of each situation, it does not provide any guidance when one enters a complex situation in which there are conflicting obligations (1,2). Utilitarianism The utilitarian ethical theory is founded on the ability to predict the consequences of an action. To a utilitarian, the choice that yields the greatest benefit to the most people is the choice that is ethically correct. One benefit of this ethical theory is that the utilitarian can compare similar predicted solutions and use a point system to determine which choice is more beneficial for more people. This point system provides a logical and rationale argument for each decision and allows a person to use it on a case-by-case context (1,2). There are two types of utilitarianism, act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism adheres exactly to the definition of utilitarianism as described in the above section. In act utilitarianism, a person performs the acts that benefit the most people, regardless of personal feelings or the societal constraints such as laws. Rule utilitarianism, however, takes into account the law and is concerned with fairness. A rule utilitarian seeks to benefit the most people but through the fairest and most just means available. Therefore, added benefits of rule utilitarianism are that it values justice and includes beneficence at the same time (1,2). As with all ethical theories, however, both act and rule utilitarianism contain numerous flaws. Inherent in both are the flaws associated with predicting the future. Although people can use their life experiences to attempt to predict outcomes, no human being can be certain that his predictions will be true. This uncertainty can lead to unexpected results making the utilitarian look unethical as time passes because his choice did not benefit the most people as he predicted (1,2). For example, if a person lights a fire in a fireplace in order to warm his friends, and then the fire burns down the house because the soot in the chimney caught on fire, then the utilitarian now seems to have chosen an unethical decision. The unexpected house fire is judged as unethical because it did not benefit his friends. Another assumption that a utilitarian must make is that he has the ability to compare the various types of consequences against each other on a similar scale. However, comparing material gains such as money against intangible gains such as happiness is impossible since their qualities differ to such a large extent (1). A third failing found in utilitarianism is that it does not allow for the existence of supererogation or heroes. In other words, people are obligated to constantly behave so that the most people benefit regardless of the danger associated with an act (1). For instance, a
utilitarian who sacrifices her life to save a train full of people is actually fulfilling an obligation to society rather than performing a selfless and laudable act. As explained above, act utilitarianism is solely concerned with achieving the maximum good. According to this theory an individual's rights may be infringed upon in order to benefit a greater population. In other words, act utilitarianism is not always concerned with justice, beneficence or autonomy for an individual if oppressing the individual leads to the solution that benefits a majority of people. Another source of instability within act utilitarianism is apparent when a utilitarian faces one set of variable conditions and then suddenly experiences a change in those variables that causes her to change her original decision. This means that an act utilitarian could be nice to you one moment and then dislike you the next moment because the variables have changed, and you are no longer beneficial to the most people (1). Rule utilitarianism also contains a source of instability that inhibits its usefulness. In rule utilitarianism, there is the possibility of conflicting rules (1). Let us revisit the example of a person running late for his meeting. While a rule utilitarian who just happens to be a state governor may believe that it is ethically correct to arrive at important meetings on time because the members of the state government will benefit from this decision, he may encounter conflicting ideas about what is ethically correct if he is running late. As a rule utilitarian, he believes that he should follow the law because this benefits an entire society, but at the same time, he believes that it is ethically correct to be on time for his meeting because it is a state government meeting that also benefits the society. There appears to be no ethically correct answer for this scenario (1). Rights In the rights ethical theory the rights set forth by a society are protected and given the highest priority. Rights are considered to be ethically correct and valid since a large or ruling population endorses them. Individuals may also bestow rights upon others if they have the ability and resources to do so (1). For example, a person may say that her friend may borrow the car for the afternoon. The friend who was given the ability to borrow the car now has a right to the car in the afternoon. A major complication of this theory on a larger scale, however, is that one must decipher what the characteristics of a right are in a society. The society has to determine what rights it wants to uphold and give to its citizens. In order for a society to determine what rights it wants to enact, it must decide what the society's goals and ethical priorities are. Therefore, in order for the rights theory to be useful, it must be used in conjunction with another ethical theory that will consistently explain the goals of the society (1). For example in America people have the right to choose their religion because this right is upheld in the Constitution. One of the goals of the founding fathers' of America was to uphold this right to freedom of religion. However, under Hitler's reign in Germany, the Jews were persecuted for their religion because Hitler decided that Jews were detrimental to Germany's future success. The American government upholds freedom of religion while the Nazi government did not uphold it and, instead, chose to
eradicate the Jewish religion and those who practiced it. Casuist The casuist ethical theory is one that compares a current ethical dilemma with examples of similar ethical dilemmas and their outcomes. This allows one to determine the severity of the situation and to create the best possible solution according to others' experiences. Usually one will find paradigms that represent the extremes of the situation so that a compromise can be reached that will hopefully include the wisdom gained from the previous examples (2). One drawback to this ethical theory is that there may not be a set of similar examples for a given ethical dilemma. Perhaps that which is controversial and ethically questionable is new and unexpected. Along the same line of thinking, a casuistical theory also assumes that the results of the current ethical dilemma will be similar to results in the examples. This may not be necessarily true and would greatly hinder the effectiveness of applying this ethical theory (2). Virtue The virtue ethical theory judges a person by his character rather than by an action that may deviate from his normal behavior. It takes the person's morals, reputation and motivation into account when rating an unusual and irregular behavior that is considered unethical. For instance, if a person plagiarized a passage that was later detected by a peer, the peer who knows the person well will understand the person's character and will be able to judge the friend. If the plagiarizer normally follows the rules and has good standing amongst his colleagues, the peer who encounters the plagiarized passage may be able to judge his friend more leniently. Perhaps the researcher had a late night and simply forgot to credit his or her source appropriately. Conversely, a person who has a reputation for scientific misconduct is more likely to be judged harshly for plagiarizing because of his consistent past of unethical behavior (2). One weakness of this ethical theory is that it does not take into consideration a person's change in moral character. For example, a scientist who may have made mistakes in the past may honestly have the same late night story as the scientist in good standing. Neither of these scientists intentionally plagiarized, but the act was still committed. On the other hand, a researcher may have a sudden change from moral to immoral character may go unnoticed until a significant amount of evidence mounts up against him or her (2).
Ethical theories and principles bring significant characteristics to the decision-making process. Although all of the ethical theories attempt to follow the ethical principles in order to be applicable and valid by themselves, each theory falls short with complex flaws and failings. However, these ethical theories can be used in combination in order to obtain the most ethically correct answer possible for each scenario. For example, a utilitarian may use the casuistic theory and compare similar situations to his real life situation in order to determine the choice that will benefit the most people. The deontologist and the rule utilitarian governor who are running late for their meeting may use the rights ethical theory when deciding whether or not to
speed to make it to the meeting on time. Instead of speeding, they would slow down because the law in the rights theory is given the highest priority, even if it means that the most people may not benefit from the decision to drive the speed limit. By using ethical theories in combination, one is able to use a variety of ways to analyze a situation in order to reach the most ethically correct decision possible (1). We are fortunate to have a variety of ethical theories that provide a substantial framework when trying to make ethically correct answers. Each ethical theory attempts to adhere to the ethical principles that lead to success when trying to reach the best decision. When one understands each individual theory, including its strengths and weaknesses, one can make the most informed decision when trying to achieve an ethically correct answer to a dilemma. References Cited 1. Ridley, Aaron. 1998. Beginning Bioethics. New York: St. Martin's Press. 2. Penslar, Robin L,. 1995. Research Ethics: Cases and Materials. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 3. "General Ethical Foundation." Online. Accessed February 17, 2002. http://stedwards.edu/urswery/norm.htm 4. "Ethical Principles." Online. Accessed February 17, 2002. http://peds.ufl.edu/ethics_course/Ethics,%20Ethical%20Principles.htm Ethical theories are the foundations of ethical analysis because they are the viewpoints from which guidance can be obtained along the pathway to a decision. Each theory emphasizes different points such as predicting the outcome and following one's duties to others in order to reach an ethically correct decision. There are three main kinds of ethical theory; deontology, utilitarianism and virtue ethics. Deontology meaning 'obligation' or 'duty' is an approach to ethics which says that the act of rightness or wrongness is not wholly dependent on the goodness or badness of their consequences (University of Aberdeen, 2007). The theory states that people should adhere to their obligations and duties when analyzing an ethical dilemma. This means that a person will follow his or her obligations to another individual or society because upholding one's duty is what is considered ethically correct (Brook, 2007). Utilitarianism is the ethical doctrine that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility in maximizing happiness or pleasure as summed among all persons. It means that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome – “the ends justify the means”. The theory is founded on the ability to predict the consequences of an action. To a utilitarian, the choice that yields the greatest benefit to the most people is the choice that is ethically correct (Markoczy, 2002). Virtue theory according to Rainbow (2002), is an approach to ethics which emphasizes character, rather than rules or consequences as the key element of ethical thinking. The theory judges a person by his character rather than by an action that may stray from his normal
behavior. Although all of the ethical theories attempts to be applicable and valid by themselves, each theory falls short with its own flaws, there is without doubt, no one better theory than the other, and therefore one cannot have preference of a theory over the others.
One of the most important leadership skills you can possess is a high moral intelligence. It may appear that bad behavior is rewarded in the corporate world, but it is usually a very shortterm phenomenon. In the long-term, good behavior tends to pay off. What makes ethical dilemmas particularly difficult is that they often involve conflicts between two or more deeply held beliefs. Consider this admittedly simple example … A friend of yours just had a baby. He’s the most homely baby you’ve ever seen. While holding her new baby boy in her arms, your friend asks, “Isn’t he the best looking baby you’ve ever seen?” Now you value honesty. But you also believe you shouldn’t needlessly hurt someone’s feelings. You have an ethical dilemma! Ethical dilemmas flow upward All of us are leaders, even if it’s just personal leadership. However, when you start managing others, it’s crucial to have a framework in place to deal with ethical dilemmas. Leaders must learn to apply their values, aligned with the values of their organization, to these situations. Ethical decisions are often trade-offs between:
• • •
Utility – the value delivered to the stakeholders in your organization Rights – entitlement to something Justice – equitable sharing of pain and pleasure
Because of these trade-offs, leaders must be prepared to deal with ethical dilemmas because these decisions tend to flow upward. So leaders must develop a framework to handle these inevitable challenges. The benefits of an established framework There are at least four benefits to putting a framework in place for making ethical decisions:
• • •
Efficiency – decisions can be made more quickly Consistency – results in more systematic outputs Payback – builds emotional goodwill with your constituents
Self-respect – you feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror
3 steps to solving ethical dilemmas
#1 – Know your values There are certain values about which society agrees. For example, we tend to value honesty. Our discussion here isn’t designed to change your values – instead, it’s about applying them. Before you can apply them, you have to know what they are. If you haven’t formally contemplated your values, or even if you haven’t thought about it for awhile, check out our article on core values. Application: Create your list of core values. #2 – Select a model According to the book, Moral Issues in Business, ethical theories can be divided into two classifications: consequential theories (the formal term for these is teleological theories) and nonconsequential theories (formal name is deontological theories). The following is not a complete list of ethical theories, but it certainly covers the most significant ones for business people. Consequential theories With consequential theories, actions are judged by outcomes. If an action results in a positive result, it is morally right. If not, it is wrong. Egoism – An act is moral if it promotes your best long-term interest. Strengths - Useful for decision-making - Ignores wrongs - Flexible - Ignores interest of others - Doesn’t build relationships - Inconsistent (i.e. right for me, wrong for you) - Can’t resolve conflicts of interest Utilitarianism – An act is moral if it produces the great ratio of good to evil for everyone. Strengths - Useful for decision-making Weaknesses - May ignore wrongs Weaknesses
- Flexible - Recognizes interests of all - Resolves conflict of interest
- May conflict with justice - Difficult to design rules
Situational – An act is moral if it creates the greatest amount of love. Strengths - Humanizes decisions - Rejects moral legalism Non-consequential theories According to non-consequential theories, a factor (single rule non-consequential theories) or factors (multiple rule non-consequential theories) other than the outcome should be considered when faced with an ethical dilemma. Single rule Golden Rule – An act is moral if you treat others the way you would wish to be treated. Strengths - Personalizes decisions - Brings fairness into play - Carries childhood teachings into business Categorical Imperative (Kant) – An act is moral if you would wish that everyone behaved in the same manner. Strengths Weaknesses Weaknesses - Needs modification to fit commerce - We can’t know how others feel and think Weaknesses - Lacks definite criteria for decision-making
- Useful for decisions (i.e. do your duty) - Doesn’t resolve conflicts of duties - Recognizes responsibilities - Provides humanistic dimension - Respects rights of others Multiple rules - Subject to misinterpretation of duty - Results of acting on duty can be disastrous
Prima Facie Duties (Ross) – An act is moral if you fulfill your duties; if there is conflict, fulfill the duty to which you are most obligated. Prima facie duties include, but are not limited to: fidelity, gratitude, justice, beneficence, self-improvement, and non-injury. Strengths Weaknesses
- List of duties is educational in itself - Difficult to determine weight of duties - Sensitive to consequences - No basic agreement on moral principles
Maximin Principle of Justice (Rawls) – An act is moral if it provides an equal amount of liberty for you and others, except when social or economic inequalities exist. In that case, the worst-off in society should benefit more from the act. Strengths - Shows inherent respect for individuals Weaknesses - Concerned only with justice
- Encourages social responsibility by all - Assumes a high level of rationality - Shows concern for less fortunate - Assumes acting without self-interest
Proportionality (Garrett) – An act is moral if, in engaging in it, you don’t will a major evil to you or anyone else and if you don’t will, risk or permit a minor evil to yourself or anyone else without a proportionate reason. Strengths - Synthesizes most useful theories Weaknesses - Definitions are vague
- Provides flexibility without immorality - Highly subjective You probably noticed that all of these theories have weaknesses. So you may think that selecting an ethical theory is an exercise in futility. However, once you select the ethical theory that you feel is most closely aligned with your core values, you’ll find solving ethical dilemmas much easier. You can recognize the weakness of your method, while feeling confident in your process. Application: Choose the ethical theory which most closely aligns with your values. #3 – Use a problem-solving process Now you know your values and you have a model with which to apply them. The remaining piece is to follow an orderly process to solve the problem, because not all ethical dilemmas are as simple as your friend and her baby that we discussed earlier.
We recommend that you SOLVE IT! That’s our acronym for the timeless problem-solving process. When you follow a process such as this to solve an ethical dilemma, or any problem for that matter, you feel good about your ultimate decision. You know you’ve considered all of the alternatives and chosen the best alternative under the circumstances.
Most people know what we mean by morally good and bad but very few people can explain what it is that makes some action good or bad. Sometimes people might agree that a particular act is bad but give very different reasons why it is bad. Sometimes two people that a particular act (for example getting drunk) is bad but mean different things by “bad”. For example I might mean that it is bad for your health but not morally bad but a different person might think that it is morally bad because it is a sin.
Over the centuries different people and different societies have come up with different frameworks for deciding these questions. These frameworks can overlap and be complimentary or they might be quite alien to one another. The list below isn’t exhaustive but it does cover some of the major ethical viewpoints.
Divine Command Theory: God’s Law In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, good and bad are seen as being actually about obedience or disobedience towards God’s law. This theory of ethics is called “Divine Command Theory”. In Divine Command Theory we know what good and bad mean. Of course we still have to find out what it is that God wants us to do and that is not always clear. The bible for example has 10 Commandments but one of the most famous “Thou shalt not commit murder” does not tell us what counts as murder and what does not.
Although all religions offer some moral framework not all religions follow a Divine Command Theory of ethics. Buddhism and Hinduism are good examples of religions that have a sophisticated ethical system but which is not about obeying God’s (or several gods’) laws.
Eudaimonism: Virtues and leading a Good Life As well as behaving well or badly maybe it is possible to be a good person (or a bad person) in yourself. A virtuous person is a person who is good in themselves. A virtuous person will do good deeds but that isn’t what makes them good they are good already.
“Eudaimon” is a Greek word that means “flourishing” or “happy” (in a special sense). The idea is that by acquiring virtues you will become a well adjusted, fulfilled, happy person. What those virtues are differ from one system to another but often there is an emphasis on good deeds and a balanced lifestyle. Many modern self help books have a Eudaimonistic view of ethics, so did the Greek philosopher Aristotle and Buddhism can also be seen as being Eudaimonistic.
The notion can be summed up by the idea that being a good person is good for you.
Deontology: Rights and Duties You have a right to a good education; I have a duty to teach you. Deontology is the part of ethics that studies what obligations a person might have. A duty is something you should be doing (or not doing) a right is a set of duties that people have towards you. Rights and duties might arise from other ethical systems. Discussion of rights and duties are often more to do with political ethics or the ethics of work.
Some rights and duties may be things that people have agreed by contract by joining an organisation or living in a particular country. Other rights and duties might be seen as being universal and independent of your circumstances, for example “Human Rights” or duties arising from your religion.
At the heart of this view of ethics is the idea that some acts are right or wrong in themselves regardless of the consequences. In other words you should do your duty regardless of the consequences.
Consequentialism: Values and Consequences If you have a duty to do something it shouldn’t matter what happens once you have done it. A soldier might have a duty to obey orders so if he is told to shoot a civilian by a senior office he might claim to have acted ethically because he did his duty. Consequentialism looks at ethics differently. A consequentialist cares about ends. If the end result is bad then the act was bad. How doe we decide if the end was bad? That depends on your values. If you value human life, acts that lead to people dying are bad.
Consequentialism is a very different view from deontology. In consequentialism ends can justify the means.
Hedonism: Pleasure and Pain One way of solving the problem of what is meant by “good” and “bad” is to equate them with some other things that are obviously good or bad. Most commonly is the idea that “good” is what is pleasurable and “bad” is what is painful. The term “hedonism” is sometimes used for people who indulge in every pleasure that they can but in ethics it means something more respectable. Hedonism in the ethical sense generally looks at pleasure and pain overall and not just for yourself. So an ethical hedonist would not approve of parents who didn’t feed their children because they had spent all their money on champagne.
Altruism versus Egoism: Selfless and Selfish Altruism
People approve of Mother Theresa, Christians and Muslims admire people who died for their religion (martyrs). My family doesn’t like it if I eat all the chocolate brownies myself. Altruism is when you act for somebody else’s benefit rather than your own. Altruism is concerned not with duty or consequence but with motive. Selfless motives are seen as being good even if the consequences are bad whereas selfish motives are seen as bad even if the consequences are good.
Egoism In more recent times this view has come under attack. The economic theory of capitalism stresses that individual “selfish” financial motives can lead to prosperity all round. Egoism is a contrasting view of ethics to altruism. Egoists believe that a persons actions should be determined by that persons own interests.
There are lots of different kinds of egoists. At one level this isn’t a theory of ethics at all but a denial that there is any such thing. However many egoists believe that it is in the general good for people to act selfishly so long as they are also acting rationally. This idea is called “rational self interest”.
Descriptive Theories Most theories of ethics are prescriptive. In other words they don’t just offer insight into what the nature of morals are they also give guidance on how you should behave. Since the growth of scientific thinking some people have offered descriptive theories of ethics. In other words these are theories that may shed light on what people are doing when they make ethical judgements but they don’t (and can’t) actually help you make that judgement without some extra input. Below are some examples of descriptive approaches to ethics.
Emotivism: Approval and Disapproval Emotivism is a theory of ethics that has given up trying to work out what morally good and morally bad might actually mean. Emotivism says that statements about morality don’t really mean much at all instead they are just expressions of how a person feels about an issue. For example an emotivist would interpret the statement “Animal testing is unethical” as really meaning “I find the idea of testing animals yucky”.
Note that Emotivism is a descriptive theory of ethics. It describes what ethical statements are like but does not give any guidance on how you should behave. Emotivism does NOT say that you SHOULD just follow your feelings when it comes to making moral decisions; it is saying that you really don’t have any choice but to follow one feeling or another. Although plausible, Emotivism isn’t very helpful.
Social and Psychological Theories As far as we are aware fish don’t agonise over moral dilemmas. Although elephants have emotions they don’t seem troubled about the consequences of their actions. Maybe ethics is something to do with being human.
Sociology, anthropology and psychology all can provide interesting insights into ethics. More recently evolutionary biology has also attempted to explain some aspects of human behaviour. For example in all human societies (with a few particularly odd exceptions) incest is regarded as being very wrong. Evolutionary psychology would suggest that this a deep seated instinct that has arisen to protect populations from genetic diseases that would quickly be established if people very closely related had children together.
A branch of mathematics called “Game Theory” has also shown why various examples of “nice” behaviour in people or animals can be in an individual’s long term interest.
More generally sociology and anthropology can show why societies need ethical systems so that people can get along together. Unfortunately once again because such theories are descriptive they can’t directly help us make moral decisions.
CONSEQUENTIALIST ETHICAL THEORIES A (PURELY) CONSEQUENTIALIST Ethical Theory is a general normative theory that bases the moral evaluation of acts, rules, institutions, etc. solely on the goodness of their consequences, where the standard of goodness employed is a standard of non-moral goodness.
A NON-CONSEQUENTIALIST Ethical Theory is a general normative theory that is not (purely) consequentialist.
A UTILITARIAN Ethical Theory is a (purely) consequentialist theory according to which the morality of an act depends solely on some relation (specified by the theory) that it has to the maximization of total or average utility (a measure of non-moral goodness). Utilitarians can differ on the definition of utility, giving rise to three varieties of Utilitarian theories.
Like the individual hedonist, the hedonistic utilitarian claims that we can define the net hedonic value of a life =df the sum of all pleasures (which have positive hedonic value) and pains (which have negative hedonic value) contained in the life, where it is assumed that pleasures and pains can all be measured on a single scale.
HEDONISTIC UTILITARIANISM: Utility is defined in terms of net hedonic value. Utility of a life =df net hedonic value of the life (e.g., Bentham and Mill [but note that Mill distinguished higher from lower pleasures]).
PLURALISTIC UTILITARIANISM: Utility is defined in terms of whatever has intrinsic (non-moral) value, not just pleasure and pain--including, for example, knowledge, love, friendship, courage, health, beauty, states of consciousness other than pleasure and pain (e.g., Moore). Utility of a life = the sum of all of these factors produced during the life, again measured on a single scale.
PREFERENCE UTILITARIANISM: Utility is defined in terms of the degree to which one's actual (non-moral) preferences are satisfied, whatever those preferences may be (e.g., Harsanyi). Utility of a life =df the degree to which it satisfies the preferences of the person whose life it is, whatever those preferences may be.
TOTAL UTILITY AND AVERAGE UTILITY
1. OF ACTS
Utilitarians can evaluate the TOTAL or AVERAGE Utility of any possible action as follows:
(1) For any possible individual, i, the theory defines, in non-moral terms, the utility to i of each of the various possible alternative lives that i might lead. These utilities are assumed to be representable as numerical quantities, and, at least in theory, to be measurable and to be interpersonally comparable. (For example, in Hedonistic Utilitarianism, the utility of a life is a measure of the amount of happiness, or the sum or pleasure over pain, contained in the life.)
(2) It is assumed that, on the basis of (1), for each possible action A and possible individual i affected by A, it is possible to define ui(A), the utility to i of i's life given that A is performed (which may be positive or negative). Again, ui(A) is assumed to be a measurable, inter-personally-comparable quantity.
(3a) The TOTAL UTILITY of an act A is the sum of the utility to each possible individual i affected by the act, given that A is performed--that is, the sum, over all possible individuals i affected by the act A, of ui(A).
(3b) The AVERAGE UTILITY of an act A is the average utility to each possible individual i affected by the act, given that A is performed--that is the sum, over all possible individuals i affected by the act A, of ui(A), divided by the total number of individuals affected by the act.
ACT, RULE, AND SOCIAL PRACTICE UTILITARIANISM
It is possible to rank acts on the basis of their (total or average) utility, to rank rules on the basis of their total or average utility, and to rank social practices generally on the basis of their (total or average) utility. However, a moral theory is a theory about what one ought to do. We will distinguish three different kinds of Utilitarian moral theory as follows:
ACT UTILITARIANISM refers to a family of Utilitarian theories according to which a moral act is one that maximizes (total or average) utility.
RULE UTILITARIANISM refers to a family of Utilitarian theories according to which a moral act is one that is prescribed by the rule (or set of rules) that, if generally applied, would maximize (total or average) utility.
SOCIAL PRACTICE UTILITARIANISM refers to a family of Utilitarian theories according to which a moral act is one that is prescribed by a social practice (e.g., a rule or system of rules, custom or system of customs, or institution of system of institutions) that, if generally followed or respected, would maximize (total or average) utility.
ACT vs. RULE UTILITARIANISM
1. Act Utilitarianism (e.g., J.J.C. Smart) = When circumstances allow time for deliberation, always apply the AU Rule [AU Rule = Choose an act that maximizes utility].
a. All other rules are merely rules of thumb--to be applied when there is not time for deliberation.
2. Rule Utilitarianism (e.g., Brandt) = Apply the Ideal Utilitarian System of Rules--that is, the system of rules which, if generally applied, would maximize utility.
AN APPARENT DILEMMA FOR RULE UTILITARIANS
1. Rule Utilitarianism "Collapses" into Act Utilarianism [the Ideal Utilitarian System of rules is equivalent to (i.e., prescribes the same acts as) the AU Rule].
2. Rule Utilitarianism Becomes Rule "Fetishism" [It prescribes adhering to rules when there is no good Utilitarian reason to do so (other than possibly some perverse pleasure that one derives from adhering to the rules)].
DAVID SHAPIRO'S EXAMPLE
Consider the rule: ALWAYS STOP AT A STOP SIGN, and do not proceed until the way is clear.
Consider what the rule would be if the AU exception were added to it: : ALWAYS STOP AT A STOP SIGN, and do not proceed until the way is clear, UNLESS BY NOT STOPPING YOU WOULD MAXIMIZE UTILITY.
Fallible human beings would not satisfy either rule if they applied it, but if they APPLIED (i.e., tried to satisfy) the first rule they would have fewer auto accidents (and produce more utility) than if they APPLIED (i.e., tried to satisfy) the rule with the AU exception.
Further exceptions could be built into the first rule, to make it better from a Rule Utilitarian point of view, but the AU exception would not be one of them! For example:
EXCEPT FOR EMERGENCY VEHICLES USING SIRENS AND FLASHING LIGHTS WHILE RESPONDING TO AN EMERGENCY CALL, always stop at a stop sign, and do not proceed until the way is clear.
SAMPLE PROMISE-KEEPING RULES
1. ALWAYS Keep Your Promises, if it is Physically Within Your Power to do so. [NO EXCEPTIONS].
2. Keep Your Promises, Except When You Believe That to do so Would Fail to Maximize Utility [equivalent to the AU RULE].
3. Keep Your Promises, Except When Failing to Keep Your Promise Will Only Cause the Promisee [i.e., the Person to Whom You Made the Promise] Losses That are Reimbursable, and You Are Willing to Reimburse the Promisee for All Losses That She Can Show to Have Reasonably Resulted from Your Failing to Keep Your Promise. [may require an impartial Judge to adjudicate disputes]
SOME (POTENTIAL) PARADOXES FOR HUMAN BEINGS
PARADOX OF ACT UTILITARIANISM: For human beings, everyone's attempting to maximize overall happiness (utility) may not maximize overall happiness (utility). (There might be a different set of rules that, if generally APPLIED by humans, would produce greater overall happiness.)
PARADOX OF ALTRUISM: For human beings, everyone's attempting to maximize the happiness of others might not maximize overall happiness. (There might be greater overall happiness if people pursue a mixture of egoistic and altruistic goals and desires.)
DOES ANY FORM OF UTILITARIANISM PROVIDE A SUFFICIENT CONDITION FOR MORAL WRONGNESS?
Three proposed sufficient conditions for moral wrongness (one for each type of utilitarianism):
(1) AU: A does not maximize overall utility from among the available acts → A is wrong.
-MOU → W
Is there a counterexample to this claim of implication: Is it possible for there to be an act A such that -MOU & -W?
(2) RU: There is a Rule Utilitarian ideal system of rules RUISR that, if generally applied by human beings, would maximize utility, and RUISR requires doing something other than A → A is wrong.
-[Permitted by RUISR] → W
Is there a counterexample to this claim of implication: Is it possible for there to be an act A such that -[Permitted by RUISR] & -W?
(3) SPU: There is an ideal Utilitarian system of social practices IUSSP that, if generally followed by human beings, would maximize utility, and doing A conflicts with IUSSP → A is wrong.
-[Permitted by IUSSP] → W
Is there a counterexample to this claim of implication: Is it possible for there to be an act A such that -[Permitted by IUSSP] & -W?
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS FOR UTILITARIANISM
1. Problems in Measuring Goodness and Comparing Utilities (A Technical Problem)
2. The First Problem of Requiring Too Much: Supererogatory Acts
3. The Second Problem of Requiring Too Much: Too Much Impartiality
4. The Third Problem of Requiring Too Much: Too Much Sacrifice of Individual Autonomy
5. The First Problem of Permitting Too Much: Punishing the Innocent. Contrast Nozick's conception of morality as side constraints.
6. The Second Problem of Permitting Too Much: The Distribution Problem
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