Ethics Case Study: Application Of Utilitarianism, Kantian And Virtue Ethics To Make Ethical Choice
Appendix A states the chosen dilemma whereby a data analyst for a major casino has been faced with an ethical dilemma in a business-related situation where he must decide the most ethical choice. This is considered an ethical dilemma as a situational conflict emerges between two possible moral imperatives by which adherence to one transgresses another moral principle. Which in this case, Blair, has two difficult choices to make, whether to report to the management team about his discovery on Sam’s gambling bets or to warn Sam, stop making gambling bets. Blair would be ethically correct to report to the management, however, under both circumstances, Blair will have to admit that he violated the company’s information technology regulations by acting unethically during the process. Blair’s choice may eventually be affected by the organisation’s moral values, which in this situation is conformity. This may influence his decision-making as he is expected to be ethical by complying with the company’s norms and guidelines. Acting otherwise would be a violation to the code of conduct. In order to determine the ethical decision, it is necessary to apply three ethical frameworks: Utilitarianism, Kantian and Virtue Ethics.
Utilitarianism is a consequentialist ethical framework that provides guidelines for the decision-maker to make the most ethical choice that will maximize the overall good and will please the most stakeholders (Ethics Unwrapped, 2019). A number of stakeholders are involved in this situation. These stakeholders’ outcomes must be examined alongside the consequences that it will inflict on them in order to formulate the final decision. The main stakeholders include: Blair, Sam, the management team, and other employees.
Blair is faced with the ethical dilemma; he can either report to the management team regarding Sam’s activities or warn her about her gambling for which he will run the risk of the management team finding out directly. The ethical decision Blair will have to make should maximise net happiness for all stakeholders. The positive consequences from this decision is he would be fulfilling his obligated duties in the best interest of the company and would increase trust with the management team. While simultaneously resulting in a negative consequence as he will admit to his misbehaviour and will break the trust between Sam and, potentially, the other colleagues.
However, by warning Sam, may seem like the easier option but there are uncertainties such as whether both Sam and the management team becoming aware of the situation and severe consequences may be issued. Blair is morally obliged to take the moral action, as it is deemed immoral to do otherwise.
In Sam’s situation, she will experience an increase in pleasure from partaking in activities that excites her, subsequently she will experience a reduction in happiness as she has shown disobedience to the company’s policy. Hence, the overall net happiness would decrease. As a result of this dilemma, Sam would be the least unhappy stakeholder involved. By hiding the misconduct, Sam’s activities would be considered immorally wrong. Additionally, by continuing her activities would be considered immorally wrong as it is against the policy.
However, if Sam was to tell the truth to the management team about her misconduct, there is a possibility that the management team might present a more lenient punishment as they might recognise Sam’s initiative and forgive her, which would increase happiness. Ultimately, this is the morally right choice.
For the management team to find out that their employees have breached a code of conduct would cause a decrease in net happiness. This would arise questioning within the management team as to whether only one employee has misconducted or more, hence, would begin to sense of distrust between their employees. Ultimately, would cause a decrease in net happiness. A positive consequence would be that the policy placed by the management team for the employees is relevant and that the management team know that most of the employees abide by the rules. A negative consequence may be that the rules placed is not firm enough which allows the employees to hide their activities.
If Blair decides to report Sam’s misconduct to the management team, they will become aware and might praise Blair for doing the morally right thing. This will improve the relationship between Blair and the other employees, which will increase overall happiness, hence, morally right.
Assuming the other employees like Sam as their colleague they might not want to report her to the management team and to keep it as much of a secret as possible.
Bentham’s approach consists of quantifying the increases and decreases in pleasure regarding each stakeholder examined above. A possible summary is listed in Table 1: Utility for Each Stakeholder with the units of happiness being +10 as being the most happy and -10 as being the most unhappy.
Table 1: Utility for Each Stakeholder
Situation 1 (Reporting Situation to Management)
Situation 2 (Not reporting Situation to Management)
TOTAL NET PLEASURE
By following Bentham’s felicific calculus approach, the most ethical decision can be made. This is evident in Table 1: Utility for Each Stakeholder. If Blair decides to report Sam regarding her making gambling bets to the management team will result in more positive consequence overall. From a utilitarian perspective, Blair should tell the management team as this option yields the greatest net happiness. Doing otherwise will be considered ethically wrong.
Kantian Ethics is a framework that is derived from Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which is a rule that holds true in all situations. Under Kant’s Categorical Imperative, there are two formulations that need to be tested – Formulation One (Universal Acceptability) and Formulation Two (Respect)
Kant’s first formulation states that you should; ‘Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law’ (Stanford, 2016). Formulation Two (Respect) states that we must ‘treat humanity not simply as a means to our ends’. Ultimately, Kantian Ethics utilises a formula, whereby a maxim is described and compared with society’s moral beliefs.
As the person who breached the IT’s code of conduct, Blair has the responsibility to report his findings to the management team as it is an expectation of organisation’s code of conduct.
The maxim can be universalised as follows: “Everyone will report findings on misconduct throughout their workplace as a means of following company’s policy. Once universalised, there is evidence of ‘contradiction in will’ as by complying will the one of the company’s policy will breach another. This is a ‘contradiction in will’ as no one would want to be in this situation – both the person responsible for reporting and the one who misbehaved.
There also is contradiction in conception evident because if everyone reports to the management team about other employee’s Which is ethically wrong to do so.
Thus, the maxim fails the first test of Universal Acceptability as it creates a contradiction.
According to the second formulation of the categorical imperative, the maxim breaches the formulation of respect. This is by disregarding the company’s policy in order to gain benefit for oneself is, essentially, using them as a means to the person’s own advantage while at the same time is disrespectful toward the other employees as it is evading their privacy. Therefore, the maxim fails the test of respect.
In conclusion, under Kantian Ethics, it would be unethical to proceed with the course of action as the maxim creates a contradiction in conception and will, which violates the first formulation and does not meet the requirements for the second formulation.
Virtue ethics is developed by Aristotle and other philosophers which emphasise the role of a character (Athanassoulis, n.d.) By exploring Aristotle’s four key aspects: Functions, goals and the good, Flourishing, the virtues and developing virtues – one’s character can be examined.
Blair’s function/goal as an employee for a major casino is to fulfil his obligations as a data analyst. Which is interpreting and analysing data and turning it into information that can be used to improve the business. As Blair is an employee of the casino, there are certain virtues/excellences that he would need to have acquired. These virtues come under intellectual and character-based. In order to flourish, these virtues must be developed.
An example of intellectual virtues required to be a good employee is knowledge and practical wisdom. It is important that one has the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment in order to work efficiently by oneself and with other employees. Additionally, with this virtue, it allows the person to identify an appropriate course of action and to act accordingly to different situations. A crucial character-based virtue required would be integrity. Some other virtues may include trustworthiness and responsibility. That is, abiding to regulations and being accountable for one’s actions.
These virtues have been developed throughout Blair’s life. However, by not reporting Sam to the management team, Blair would go against his integrity as he is being dishonest, consequently, untrustworthiness is evident by the management team as Sam’s gambling activity is a breach of policy. Ultimately, this prevents Blair from flourishing.
In conclusion, the most ethical decision for Blair would be to report his findings on Sam’s forbidden activities to the management team. Under Utilitarianism analysis, this decision would result in the greatest happiness. Blair’s decision would not be in the best interest of himself but for the company. According to the Virtue Ethics analysis, not reporting Sam to the management team would contravene Blair’s integrity and honesty and would fail to meet company’s policy. It would cause Blair to feel dishonest and untrustworthy and possibly, guilt. By examining the virtues of a person, it can be used to describe what a virtuous person intends to do during situations in the real world. The choice the person makes depends on their intellectual and character-based virtues. The decision an individual makes depends if the person is ethical or unethical.
Dilemma 1: The data analyst
Blair, a data analyst for a major casino, is working after normal business hours to finish an important project. He realised that he is missing data that had been sent to his co-worker Sam. Blair and Sam are also friends. In their spare time they play tennis together.
Blair had inadvertently observed Sam typing her password several days ago and decided to log into Sam’s computer and resend the data to himself. Upon doing so, Blair sees an open email regarding gambling bets Sam placed over the last several days with a local sports bookmaker. All employees of the casino are forbidden to engage in gambling activities to avoid any hint of conflict of interest.
Blair knows he should report this but would have to admit to violating the company’s information technology regulations by logging into Sam’s computer. If he warns Sam to stop her betting, he would also have to reveal the source of his information.
From an ethical perspective, what would you recommend Blair do in this situation?
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