According to Marianne Jennings (2008),
According to Marianne Jennings (2008),
ethical theories provide guidelines that justify an action or a decision to be
right or wrong when settling a conflict between the conflicting parties ("Ethical Theory And Its Application To Contemporary
Business Practice"). There are various theories in ethics; however,
the one to be applied in this case is the theory of Utilitarianism. The
utilitarianism theory is a consequentialist theory that defines morality
regarding maximum expectable utility for everyone affected by the action or the
decision. There have been various forms of Utilitarianism put forward and
debated on since time memorial. However, the modern one mostly associated with
John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher is the one widely used. The fundamental
principle of this theory as stated by Mill is that an action or a decision is
right to the extent that it will promote the greatest good and happiness for
the largest number of people involved (Kay). The
theory of utilitarianism, in this case, condemns the decision of the
businessman since his acts leave the greatest number of individuals unhappy as
compared to those happy which is just himself.
It is, however, unclear about the
constitutes of the “greatest good.” A philosopher by the name Jeremy Bentham
believed that it is the tendency to increase or diminish pleasure or happiness
with no distinction made between persons or pleasure where all measures are
stringently quantitative. Mill, on the other hand, defines “good” regarding
well-being and elaborates not only quantitatively but also qualitatively
between different forms of pleasure. They both, however, insisted that the
greatest number consists of all those affected by the action or decision in
question while counting “each as one and no one as more than one.” The results
of utilitarianism are easy to apply while allowing for a degree of wrong or
right and a clear cut in the choice of action which is that with the greatest
utility. The difference in the philosopher’s definition of the principle is
that Bentham describes benefits and harm in terms of pleasure and pain, while
Mill concerning not only pleasure and anguish but also regarding the intensity
of the pain or pleasure (Kay).
Utilitarians in the modern days also
differ on the views about the kind of question to ask when making an ethical
move. A group of them suggest asking the effect of making a decision in a
particular situation on the balance of good over evil in general before making
the decision. The other group known as rule utilitarians suggests asking the
effect of everyone doing the action and the results in the general balance of
good over evil. Regardless of these differences, most utilitarians hold on to
the general principle which states that morality has to depend on balancing the
harmful and beneficial consequences of a decision or an action ("Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach -
Ethical Decision Making - Ethics Resources - Markkula Center For Applied Ethics
- Santa Clara University").
The theory, however, has several
objections which make it reliable solely in making decisions. The first
objection is that the theory requires the assigning value to harms and benefits
resulting from an action and comparing them to others emanating from other
decisions. It is always almost impossible to compare and measure these benefits
and harm. For example, it is impossible to put the value on life, time and
human dignity. Secondly, the outcome of a decision is neither always clear nor
is it possible to determine the parties to be affected. Hence, not easy to
anticipate beforehand. The other objection is that utilitarianism fails to take
into account issues with justice. Using the Utilitarian theory would in some
situations produce greater benefits but would be unjust. Which in other words
fails to acknowledge individual rights that could be violated while pursuing
the greater good (Kay).
The principle of utilitarianism proposes
a consideration of immediate and later consequences of an action. The theory
asks to look beyond personal interests and consider impartially the interests
of all other people affected by a decision ("Calculating
Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach - Ethical Decision Making - Ethics Resources
- Markkula Center For Applied Ethics - Santa Clara University"). In
this case, therefore, the utilitarianism theory would be against the
businessman's resolution. Instead, it would propose that the entrepreneur
considers the misery it would cause the people in the community. The greatest
number of people would be harmed by the decision, hence suggesting a
Applying the theory will mean
disregarding the businessman's rights to do whatever he pleases with his
property. The implications of this would be an injustice to the businessman
just because he is one against the greater number of people. I would, however,
agree with the theory in this case because the businessman already earns steady
profits. It is greed that drives him to make this decision, not considering
that the community which has been his source of income is going to suffer. The
greed will only drive the community to find other means, and in the end, he
might find that not so many people are buying water from his ponds. The following
results would be him losing his ponds business. Following the theory in the
reconsideration would mean that business man would not increase the price of
water-rights, resulting to farmers not becoming bankrupt. The decision would
also mean prosperity for the members of the community, but nothing changes for
the business man. However, nobody loses anything, hence achievement of the
The principle of utilitarianism as
discussed earlier has its faults like not considering justice and undoubtedly
hard to put a value on various aspects like human dignity. Therefore, if moral
decisions are to regard justice, utilitarianism cannot be the sole guiding
principle in making them. The theory would need other approaches to make a just
and appropriate decision in the situation. However, in the today's era
characterized by many as the age of self-interest, the principle of
utilitarianism is a single policy that reminds people to look beyond their
selves and consider the "good" of all ("Calculating
Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach - Ethical Decision Making - Ethics
Resources - Markkula Center For Applied Ethics - Santa Clara University").
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