\When we think of ethics, we think of two words, good or bad. Through the history of our world, philosophers and scientists have devised several thoughts that include a system that we are able to use to determine who and what is good or bad.
As a population, we can use these different terms and types of ethical theory to determine which style, form, or behavior of ethics fits with our beliefs and culture. Some of these different types of theories include virtue theory, utilitarianism, and deontological ethics. Although these all fall into the category of a theory of ethics and may seem to be similar, they are also very different.
When looking at the virtue theory of ethics, we can see that the term character can be used in the place of virtue. According to Ben (2007), the virtue theory has roots that reach back to the time of Plato. Plato, and the virtue theory, suggest that all men and women would be happy if they would only grasp the eternal Form of the Good as his or her criterion.
In contrast to the virtue theory, the utilitarianism theory suggests that a person present or have behavior of good for the entire team or group. One of the problems associated with this theory according to Boylan (2009) is that for any moral theory to work in a group, the group must first come to some terms of a general agreement. Knowing this and thinking on this statement, there are few times in my life where a team or group of people come together on any idea and agree on its entirety.
The deontological theory suggest a contrasting idea to the other two theories, it suggests that there are features within the actions of the individual that determine whether it is right or not. The first theory was about the character of the individual, the second theory was about a group of individuals, this theory involves the actions of a person. The deontological theory also suggests that an individual may believe that good intentions are more important than the results. One personal experience that comes to mind when writing about these theories. Many years ago, I worked for an electrical contractor, his moral concepts and mine were not the same. His idea of running a business was to bid much lower than any other contractor, when in fact, he did get the job, the work he applied was shoddy and the materials were sub-par. He could not perceive the value of the labor that was performed by his employees, he could have simply bid more per job, paid his employees’ wages that fit their position, and used materials that were deemed appropriate. His virtue or company mission statement was; “get the job done as cheaply as possible”.
As a businessman I can realize the importance of saving money and using business sense to achieve business directives, however, purposefully paying employees low wages, using non name brand parts and bidding lower than any other contractor for every job is one ethic that I do not agree with. There are seven general ethical categories used in defining the ethical values and morals people follow. Each category has different subsections and expectations for a person’s behavior. A person’s morals and ethical beliefs develop from a mixture of values from these various theories; therefore he or she does not necessarily fit snugly into one category. The top three ethical theories are deontological, utilitarianism, and virtue-based ethics – these are the theories under examination.
Deontological Theory Also known as ‘duty-based’, ‘categorical imperative’, and ‘The Golden Rule’, deontology focuses on “decisions about what’s right [based] on broad, abstract universal ethical principles or values such as honesty, promise keeping, fairness, loyalty, rights (to safety, privacy, etc.), justice, responsibility, compassion, and respect for human beings and property” (Trevino, 2011, pg. 42). People following this ethical category believe moral principles outline the necessary obligations and duties – principles developed by biblical or religious beliefs and societal or government laws. A deontological person does not worry about the consequences of a decision. Their concerns focus on duty or moral obligations. In a professional capacity, the person follows instructions of managers or supervisors because it is his or her duty to respect authority, even if the instructions are unethical. Utilitarianism Theory
The second most common category of ethical behavior is also known as ‘consequence-based’ or ‘teleological ethics’. In this category, people focus on decisions that result in the most benefits for the greatest number of people in a society. Utilitarianism ethics applies to much of the decision-making in the business world, as a company exerts an effort to become environmentally responsible and trustworthy. A difficulty that arises with utilitarianism is that the decisions made cannot account for every possibility. This means that the person is “unlikely to arrive at a completely accurate assessment of all future consequences [and] … the rights of a minority group can easily be sacrificed for the benefit of the majority” (Trevino, 2011, pg. 42).
Virtue ethics tend to fit in more with the deontological category than with utilitarianism. In this category, the focus is on making good decisions because it reflects the type of person one wants to be. A good person makes good decisions and exerts effort “to cultivate excellence in all that [they] do and all that others do” (Boylan, 2009, pg. 133). In this category, people take a personalized approach to decision-making that not only accounts for societal expectations but also for how the person wants to be perceived, focusing on the act or decision instead of the consequences. Virtue ethics are beneficial to people working in specialized professional communities. A professional community or organization, such as physicians or lawyers, has a highly developed set of ethical standards. These standards give the members of the community guidelines to follow when trying to be good moral agents.
In a gambling casino, deontological values are important. In any position, there are local, state, and federal laws that govern the activities within the casino. State regulations are especially strict on how employees handle money and gambling chips. As a surveillance employee in a local casino, my deontological ethics followed company and state policies. Because of the possible legal ramifications, I chose to place state regulations before company obligations. There were inconsistencies in how management handled money – per state guidelines; documentation was required for every step in the process. Whenever I saw something getting done incompletely or inappropriately, I documented each instance. After a few weeks of documentation, I discovered that the Washington State Gambling Commission representative had never seen any of the paperwork.
This meant that my immediate supervisor and the owners had concealed the paperwork so that the company would not have to make the necessary changes or possibly face fines for improper handling of money. My morals and values caused an ethical dilemma because I knew that the company was following improper procedures but I also knew that informing the representative of the missing paperwork and improper handling practices could cost me my job. I chose to follow the higher level duties and obligations outlined by the state regulations in an effort to prevent the loss of the company. This choice backfired on me in the end – management fired me because I informed the state representative of the issues.
Each ethical theory has its own rules and expectations. There are sub-levels within each category that creates even more varied options. When a person knows his or her own values and morals, it is easier to identify which ethical category he or she fits into. In this manner, a person is more aware of why he or she makes the decisions he or she does and can see other viewpoints more clearly. There are different types of ethical theories. Ethical theories help to find how a person should act towards another or in a situation. The various types of ethical theories helps people define what is right and what is wrong and how we make those assumptions. Although the three main theories of ethics have the same purpose they are different from one another. The virtue theory is the ethical theory also called character ethics is based on the moral of what is ethical. It is based on personal belief and feeling of character. It “describes the character of a moral agent as a driving force for ethical behavior, rather than rules (Wikipedia, 2012). Virtue ethics is character based and focuses on helping people develop a better character trait.
According to the text (2009), virtue ethics “take the viewpoint that in living your life you should try to cultivate excellence in all that you do and all that others do. These excellences or virtues are both moral and non-moral.” It deals with the moral character of a person rather than what is the more ethical thing to do or what society expects from them. Utilitarianism states that something is morally right if it is for the greater good of all. It is most often used in the United States government because of the principle of satisfying everyone. According to Wikipedia (2012), it is the measurement between what is right and wrong without consequence. A utilitarian is a person who puts the need of others before their own.
They believe that success is achieved as a whole rather than individually. It is based on factual beliefs where the moral worth is based on the overall outcome. Deontological or “Duty” ethics is the ethical theory that is based on one’s duty to do the right thing. Deontology states that people act ethically moral because of what is expected from them in a particular situation. For example, at work you are more likely to use deontological ethics in determining how to behave in the workplace. It is because your employer expects for you to follow the code of ethics set forth by the company. It is based on what society expects out of you as a person and a citizen.
Voting could be considered to be a deontological ethical decision as well as utilitarianism because even though you may want to vote because of your personal beliefs and character, most people do it because it is necessary and they are expected to do so. It also is for the good of all Americans and if one person fails to vote it can affect the people as a whole. For me this is also a virtue base theory as well because I feel that it is my duty to myself to vote because of how I was raised. I was always taught the importance of voting and the things that can become from voting.
The three main ethical theories are the basis of the path to making decisions and how decisions are made. They set the standard for how and why people act the way they do or why and how they make the decisions that they make. It helps to determine what is right and what is wrong and how assumptions are made to come to conclusions. Although the three main ethical theories serve the same purpose of establishing ethical principles (Rainbow, 2002), they differ from one another because they each define different points and differ in a person’s duty to make ethical decisions. Utilitarianism is a consequentialist ethical theory. An action is right or wrong based on its consequences. John Stuart Mill was an important philosopher in developing the idea of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism holds that any action that results in a greater amount of happiness in the world is a right action and any action that results in pain or less happiness is wrong. Utilitarianism can be divided into different versions. Act utilitarianism is one of the versions of utilitarianism.
Act utilitarianism’s goal is to maximize the overall happiness of the universe. Act utilitarianism uses the Greatest Happiness Principle which says in every situation, choose the option that you believe to be most likely to produce the greatest possible happiness or least possible unhappiness for the all people who will be affected. An act utilitarian would determine if robbing a bank is a right action or not by determining how much happiness the robbery would create. To do this he would have to use the hedonistic calculus, which is a way of adding up all the happiness that everyone affected by an action would receive. If the results of this calculation show that the bank managers, the hundreds of investors, and the police would all be unhappy with this action and only the robber and maybe his family would be happy, then robbing the bank is a wrong action. If the bank managers did not care about the customer’s money, the FDIC insured all the stolen money, the police were not unhappy because of the robbery, and the robber was extremely happy because he could move to the Caribbean and never work again, then robbing the bank would be a right action.
There are many good points to act utilitarianism. It is very appealing because most people want to increase their happiness and reduce their pain. Act utilitarianism says that people could do that and they would not only make everyone happier but they would also be doing what is morally right. Act utilitarians will not have conflicts over any action being right or wrong because the hedonistic calculus is an objective test that proves the amount of please or pain that will result. It is a standard that all actions can be evaluated by. Another point or act utilitarianism that can be seen as an advantage over rule utilitarianism is that each individual situation can have a different action be right. This means that in every situation the right action will provide more happiness or less pain as opposed to rule utilitarianism where the individual situations do not matter. Act utilitarianism also has some disadvantages. One major fault of act utilitarianism is that some actions would produce a greater amount of happiness if they were done in secret. The same action, however, would produce less happiness if it were done in public.
That means that the exact same action and situation would be right if no one knew about it but wrong if enough people were aware of it. If people know about an action and believe it is wrong, then wouldn’t it be just as wrong if no one knew about it? The action would still have the same affect on the same amount of people, they just would not know about, so they could not be unhappy about it. Act utilitarianism can also seem unjust because the hedonistic calculus may say that it is right to take away the rights of a person because it will contribute to the overall happiness in the universe. Act utilitarianism would say an action producing pain for a small number of innocent people is right as long as the rest of the world is happy about it. Another problem is the feelings of a person are disregarded; only the consequences are important.
Some other problems with act utilitarianism are if a person has never experienced a similar situation, then they will be unable to perform the hedonistic calculus because they will not know if people will be happy or not. It also may not be possible to compare the different people’s happiness. Act Utilitarianism has many problems. If everyone acted according to act utilitarianism, then the majority or people would probably be happier. But morally correct actions do not necessarily have to make people happy, so act utilitarianism might not be a good way to determine if an action is really right or wrong.
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