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Ethical Dilemma Case Study: Utilitarianism, Kantian and Virtue Ethics

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Dilemma 1 states that Blair has accessed Sam’s computer without his consent and has discovered Sam’s gambling bets with a local sports bookmaker over the last several days. Since employees of the casino are forbidden to partake in any gamble activities, Blair is currently concern as to whether he should report on his co-worker or refrain from disclosing his illegal acts. This case is an example of an ethical dilemma as neither of these proposed decisions will provide a satisfactory outcome for Blair.

If Blair chooses to correct a wrong that his co-worker is doing, then he would have to admit to violating the company’s information technology regulations. While silencing and condoning Sam’s behaviour, Blair can avoid getting both parties in trouble; this would then be a case where an issue could be ethical but illegal. To determine what would be more morally acceptable, three frameworks were applied to the dilemma; Utilitarianism, Kantian and Virtue ethics.

Framework 1

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory that determines whether an action is morally acceptable by the amount of pleasure and pain it would produce. According to Bentham, if a proposed action were to bring the greatest good for the greatest number, then this action is morally obliged to be adopted than the alternatives. Conduct of ‘net happiness’ for all plausible parties involved can assist in selecting a decision that will lead to the greatest aggregate pleasure (refer to table 1). In this case, the three main categories of people who are directly affected are Blair, Sam, and employees.

Firstly, Blair would experience a decrease in net happiness in both decisions. As Blair is knowingly letting his co-worker go against the company’s policy, he will likely have a guilty conscience from not reporting wrongdoing. Thus, this choice of action may be comprised with his integrity and affect his daily productivity at work. Correspondingly, if Blair chooses to act as a whistle-blower, he will face negative consequences for violating his written contract. Although reporting misconduct within the organisation may seem to be morally right, it could have an adverse effect on Blair and can lead him to get his job terminated. As a result, there are no benefits for Blair to snitch on Sam except to help the business enforce its rule and regulation; hence, he would have a decrease of 5 points in happiness for both options.

From Sam’s perspective, he will encounter an increase in happiness for option 1 and a decrease in option 2. Since Blair could avoid getting Sam in trouble if he kept silent, the pleasure level of Sam would be quite high due to him being unaware of the problem and will continue to gamble. However, once it is disclosed, it is then assumed Sam would be unhappy due to some possible turmoil he would face such as the loss of his reputation, career, family and the betrayal of a friend.

The third stakeholder is the employees. People who work in the casino and know what is expected in the company’s policy will likely experience a decrease in happiness and suffer if they discover Sam’s gambling acts. As it is their job to work collectively under the same terms and conditions, they will believe that it is unfair for an individual to get preferential treatment. This could potentially provoke conflict between co-workers and negatively affect the work dynamics within the company. For this reason, the pleasure levels of employees are expected to drop after Blair reports to the head.

Therefore, taking the utilitarianism theory into account, the increase and decrease in pleasure must be quantifiable to show the overall net happiness. Looking at the total column, option 1 is morally required because this action produces the greatest amount of net happiness. Whereas, adopting option 2 whereby Blair reports Sam is deemed as an unethical behaviour under these assumptions.

Table 1 – Utility associated with each stakeholder

Option 1 – If Blair does NOT report Sam Option 2 – If Blair DOES report Sam

Blair -5 -5

Sam +8 -8

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Employees, 1000 0 -4

Total Net Happiness +3 -17

Note: The 0 represents the midpoint, while -10 is unhappiness and +10 is happiness.

Framework 2

Kantian deontological ethics is centred around the belief of a ‘categorical imperative,’ which is a moral duty that must be fulfilled in all circumstances. This approach involves subjecting an action to two formulations and if they do not prohibit the action, then it would be considered as morally permissible.

The first formulation by Kant outlines that all individuals must “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” The maxim the case would be, “I will hack my co-worker’s computer to complete an important work project.” Since this formulation focuses on universal acceptability, it could be universalised as followed: “Everyone will hack their co-worker’s computer to complete an important work project.” When this maxim is applied, people would believe that breaking policy is a ‘right’; thus, defeating the purpose of having a company policy in place. Therefore, the universal maxim is a contradiction in conception and would not be a moral course of action.

The second most basic form of the imperative is: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.” This principle discusses a person who violates the freedom or property rights of other people. Blair logging into Sam’s computer to retrieve files he needs appears to contravene this imperative as he is not respecting Sam’s privacy. So, the proposed action will then fail the second formulation of the categorical imperative.

It can be concluded that both categorical imperatives have been breached and Blair’s action can be determined as not morally correct.

Framework 3

The Virtue Approach focuses on the moral character of an agent and the nature of the good life. For Aristotle, a virtuous person is someone who has a life of mindless routine and embodies the ideal character traits. Unlike deontological and consequentialist theories, the virtue approach introduces the idea that ethics should be based on how one is ought to behave, and less about the consequences and intentions to act. It can be applied to Blair’s case by considering the four elements of Aristotle’s approach: Function, goals and the good, Flourishing, the Virtues or Excellences, and the Development of virtues.

The function/goal of being a data analyst is to gather and interpret data whilst working alongside teams within the business. According to Aristotle, for a data analyst to flourish, they must possess the intellectual virtues and character traits required to perform this role. An example of excellence in analytics is knowledge and honesty. As an employee, it is crucial to understand the company’s regulations and to report when misconduct is happening. For Blair, he is demonstrating this knowledge but should now choose to admit to his violation as an aim to become virtuous.

Concerning the development of virtues, Blair must inherit the traits of a trustworthy and courageous person. As a friend and a co-worker of Sam, it is important to foster a strong sense of trust even if it means to confront Sam about his problem. In doing so, Blair is looking out for his best interest and will display that he truly values their friendship. This course of action would then help Blair flourish in his job as he is building a true relationship with his co-worker to be able to work effectively as a team.

Conclusion

In conclusion, given the risks and uncertainties involved with Utilitarianism and Kantian, it is recommended that Blair follows the Virtue Ethics in this scenario because it focuses on helping develop character traits such as honesty, trustworthiness and courageous. Therefore, allowing him to make decisions based on these traits will bring the ‘greatest good’ in him and will make him a better person. In contrast to Utilitarianism, a theory based on the net happiness that violates the standards of justice and can make Blair feel miserable which is unethical to do. Also, as the universal maxim is non-logical, it is not possible to use Kant’s ethics, thus deeming the Virtue Ethics as the only moral action to follow.

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Ethical Dilemma Case Study: Utilitarianism, Kantian and Virtue Ethics. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/ethical-dilemma-case-study-utilitarianism-kantian-and-virtue-ethics/
“Ethical Dilemma Case Study: Utilitarianism, Kantian and Virtue Ethics.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/ethical-dilemma-case-study-utilitarianism-kantian-and-virtue-ethics/
Ethical Dilemma Case Study: Utilitarianism, Kantian and Virtue Ethics. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/ethical-dilemma-case-study-utilitarianism-kantian-and-virtue-ethics/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
Ethical Dilemma Case Study: Utilitarianism, Kantian and Virtue Ethics [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 17 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/ethical-dilemma-case-study-utilitarianism-kantian-and-virtue-ethics/
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