Since the beginning of this class, I have changed so much. Before enrolling into PADM 411, I did not know how much ethics meant in the public and private sector. Throughout this course, my knowledge of ethics as well as my approach to ethics has changed. I have become more knowledgeable about the different approaches to ethics and have gained insight as to where I stand in my approach to ethics.
One aspect that has changed in my approach to ethics since the beginning of the semester is, I am now fixed that it is difficult to arrive at a final answer to ethical questions. Learning about the various approaches to ethics has caused me to see that there can be more than one “right” resolution to ethical dilemmas. Therefore, if an ethical question is raised, everyone will come to a different solution depending on which approach they take. I feel we should always try to understand cultural differences, but at the same time there are some actions that are wrong no matter your background. I believe that relativism can lead to chaos and that absolutism is too strict and judgmental. Pluralism helps build a balance between absolutism and relativism.
In terms of general ethical approaches, my views do not exactly fall in line with any one approach. If I had to choose, I believe my approach to ethics is a mixture of egoism and deontological. Egoism appeals to me because I believe that it is very important that we look after ourselves. I am in no way implying that we should all be selfish, but I do feel sometimes we get caught up in the world and helping others that we forget to put ourselves first. When looking to answer a problem, I believe it is good to come up with a resolution that is both altruistic and selfish. If we can help others and ourselves at the same time, that will always be a win-win situation in my eyes.
The other approach to ethics that my views line up with is Kant’s approach to ethics. I enjoy Kant’s approach to ethics because of its emphasis on intentions. The textbook states that the deontological theory that Kant follows is where “the ethics of an action does not depend upon the consequences, but upon an important feature of the act itself” (Geuras et al, 2011). I believe that in life when things do not turn out perfectly, some respect must be given for having good intentions. This approach is especially interesting to me because I always try to have good intentions, but sometimes the outcome does not reflect my intentions. For example, when I was younger, I chose to do something nice for my parents and cook dinner for them. My intentions were good for wanting to make dinner, and I wanted to show how much I appreciated them. However, my five-star cooking caused both of my getting parents sick. The consequences of my actions were not the best, but my heart and intentions were both in the right place. If someone were to view Kant’s approach to ethics while hearing of my situation, they would see that I am in the right, because in the end, my intentions were good. This approach to ethics often works in my benefit and assures me that even if things don’t work out, I can still be considered a good person.
My least favorite approach to ethics is the utilitarian approach. Utilitarian theory chooses to focus on an “ideal world in which the happiness of all people is unified so completely that the activities that make any individual happy would also promote the happiness of all” (Geuras et al, 2011). This approach tries to turn life and our decisions into a formula. I base decisions off what feels right to me. Also, this approach tries to put values and worth on things that are priceless. Can we really put a value on human lives or happiness? I don’t think so. Another thing that bothers me about this approach is the heavy focus on consequences. If we allow our judgement of right or wrong to be based only on consequences, we are ignoring the behavior of those with bad intentions. I found it hard to agree with the utilitarian approach to ethics because it conflicts with egoism and my personal ethical approach.
Looking at both my before and after ethics inventory, I saw that I have become a lot more modest in my views. On my original ethics inventory, I responded to the questions with either strongly agree, or strongly disagree. When I filled the inventory out the second time, I had fewer answers that I felt strongly about. It also took me longer to fill out the ethics inventory the second time. The first time I filled out the inventory, I based all my choices on my gut feeling and felt that each question only had one ‘right’ answer. The second time, I found myself doubting my decisions and second guessing myself. I struggled to answer some of the questions because I saw how multiple answers could be correct.
Learning about ethics has made me a more accepting person. Ethics has also challenged me to view ethical dilemmas in new ways and consider point of views different from my own. My family, friends, and education have played great roles in the growth of my personal ethic: conscience, personal integrity, and responsibility. Through my study of ethics, I have become aware of the decisions I make and the thought process that goes into them.
Geuras, D., & Garofalo, C. (2011). Practical ethics in public administration. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts.