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What Guides Ethical Decision Making Essay

A processor manufacturing company who are currently facing financial troubles completed an order about three months ago for newly designed high-powered processors that are smaller than and four times as powerful as its predecessor. These processors are to be placed into cutting edge cellular phones by a leading cellular phone manufacturer whose release date is a mere month away. A design inconsistency was recently discovered that essentially meant that the processors would work but would be no more powerful than its predecessor in certain conditions. A flaw that would only to be discerned when extraordinary load was placed on the device component whilst it was exposed to ambient temperatures of over 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The company’s CEO is now faced with the difficult decision of either doing nothing or replacing all the processors. Doing nothing, allows the company to keep its doors open, grants access to potential future earnings and saves the jobs of over 1000 employees. A decision that clearly seeks to ensure the common good of the company by giving them the ability to remain competitive while remaining silent on an issue that poses substantial risks to the cellular phone manufacturers earnings and reputation.

The alternative, replacing all the processors would undoubtedly ensure that the processors function as advertised, but doing so would be at a significant cost to the company and may likely result in massive downsizing or the company’s declaration of insolvency. Though this option speaks positively to the moral character of the company, it may also lead to the company’s demise and leave over 1000 employees jobless. Both decisions, in light of the situation presented, may be considered to be ethical. A predicament which may undoubtedly lead a person to question how does one choose between several ethical options and more importantly what exactly guides this choice. The answer to these questions can be found in a branch of philosophy called theoretical ethics. Theoretical ethics is the rational reflection on what is right, what is wrong, what is just, what is unjust, what is good, and what is bad in terms of human behaviour according to [https://www.boundless.com/marketing/textbooks/boundless-marketing-textbook/social-responsibility-ethics-in-marketing-16/ethics-an-overview-101/definition- of-ethics-498-8310/].

This branch of philosophy is exercised via the application the application of ethical theory. Ethical theories are those that represent the grand ideas which guide ethical principles and systematically attempt to answer the fundamental practical ethical questions [Ethical Theories http://www.medindia.net/education/familymedicine/biomedical-ethics-theories.htm#ixzz3H84Tlgi3] Ethical theories can be categorized according to how they justify ethical judgments [https://ethics.journalism.wisc.edu/resources/ethics-in-a-nutshell/#theoretical ] and as such the particular ethical theory utilized can influence the decision made. This essay will therefore seek to examine the concepts of the common good and moral character and fundamental human virtue, their supportive ethical theories and explain how they are applied to making ethical decisions in businesses.

Common Good

Also referred to as the human good, public good or commonweal, the concept of the common good is one that has evolved over time. As human society developed, so too did the concept, as articulated by the philosophers of the day. Originating with the Greek Philosopher Aristotle who, on the topic wrote “Every skill and every enquiry, and similarly every action and rational choice, is thought to aim at some good; and so the good has been aptly described as that at which everything aims”. He went on to reason that “since political science employs the other sciences, and also lays down the laws about what we should do and refrain from, its end will include the ends of the others, and will therefore be the human good.” http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam032/99036947.pdf . Aristotle firstly explained his idea of the good, which according to his writings can then be understood to mean the purpose, reason, desire or benefit of things and actions.

The idea of the good sets the premise for understanding the human good, the good that yields the most benefit to human existence. The human good, in Aristotle’s view, was the science of politics since it was the science charged with managing all other sciences and their respective ends for a single purpose; the betterment of the polity. The underlying premise of Aristotle’s definition of the common good is utility. It involves a multiplicity of agents working towards a single shared purpose that would satisfy or be of benefit to all involved. This single purpose, shared by many, for the benefit of many is therefore what is understood to be the common good; a concept that shares an ideal that is similar to utilitarian theory as developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mills.


The basic premise of utilitarianism is the achievement of happiness for the greatest sum of people [ethics in action Domenec Mele]. This principle places the interest of the many over the interest of the few and as such the rightness or wrongness of an act is based only on the perceived or expected outcomes of that act as it relates to the utility obtained. http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/cavalier/80130/part2/sect9.html Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mills were the main proponents of this ideology, and though they had differing views on which outcome of act (happiness vs. pleasure) was worth measuring in order to determine the rightness or wrongness of an act they both held that human wellbeing was salient. http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/cavalier/80130/part2/sect9.html Utilitarianism can be considered to be an ethical theory. It represents a grand idea; achievement of maximum utility for most, and at the same time, assesses the rightness or wrongness of an action through the lenses of this idea. The utilitarian principle can therefore be used to ethically guide or judge the ethicality of decisions and actions.

Utilitarianism as an ethical theory acts in pursuance to the common good https://philosophynow.org/issues/64/Presidential_Decision-Making_Utilitarianism_vs_Duty_Ethics . As previously expressed, a single purpose, shared by many, for the benefit of many is therefore what is understood to be the common good. This concept is similar to utilitarianism as is evident by the mutual aim of achieving maximum utility for many. As such, decisions and actions resulting from utilitarian theory are made based on the consequences of those decision and actions, and how they affect majority with an aim to always increase utility. Utilitarianism as a theory may then be seen as the tool through which the common good may be achieved. https://philosophynow.org/issues/64/Presidential_Decision-Making_Utilitarianism_vs_Duty_Ethics COMMON GOOD OF BUSINESSES

The theories of the common good and utilitarianism although initially conceptualized on a societal scale are also applicable to smaller groups that occur within society. Both concepts are formulated purely on the idea that it is best to achieve utility for the majority of stakeholders and as such the size of the group is not an important attribute for consideration when applying these ideas. Utilitarian as a theory and the common good as a concept can therefore be viewed as reducible and as such be applied to virtually any group in society including a business. The common good of a business is to seek particular goods through its activities http://www.iese.edu/es/files/Paper_Antonio%20Argando%C3%B1a_tcm5-36013.pdf . These goods are extrinsic, intrinsic and transcendent in nature and are used to provide utility to stakeholders by satisfying their needs http://www.iese.edu/research/pdfs/DI-0777-E.pdf .

These goods are interdependent of each other, but through their collective contributions, work towards the achievement of the vision and mission of a business. The vision and mission of a business may then be considered to be that business’s common good [domenec mele bookl]. Interestingly however, a business seeking its own common good also works towards the common good of society [domenec mele bookl]. As suggested by Adam Smith’s metaphor of the invisible hand, a business in pursuit of its own interests tends to also promote the good of society as a whole [domenec mele bookl]. Therefore the activities of a business: 1. creating added economic value with justice and distributing it with equity 2. supplying useful goods and services efficiently and fairly 3. providing jobs, opportunities and organizational conditions in accordance with human dignity and human rights 4. Promoting the necessary relationships between the firm and its constitutive stakeholders, fostering reciprocity, collaboration and cooperation among them 5. Striving for the continuity and sustainability of the firm and 6. being a good corporate citizen may be viewed as contributing to not only its own common good but also to the common good of society. [domenec mele bookl] COMMON GOOD DECISION MAKING IN A BUSINESS

A common good decision in a business is any decision that is pursuant its own common good and, at the same time, is aimed at achieving maximum utility for the majority of stakeholders. This type of decision making applies a mission driven approach to corporate governance where the organization is seen as one entity that achieves multiple ends. In applying this approach the corporate governing body weighs the positive and negative consequences of an action with an aim towards increasing overall utility for the many with the business’s vision and mission as its main goal [domenec mele]. It would then stand to reason that a common good business decision would be any decision that is utilitarian in nature, which is also in accordance with any of the 6 mentioned activities of a business.

Common good business decisions are made through the application of utilitarian theory. Utilitarian theory provides a straightforward method for making decisions that would provide the greatest benefits and the least harm to the business. To arrive at such a decision, one must firstly identify the each of the various options that can be chosen http://www.sme.ie/articles/business_ethics/thinking_ethically.pdf . After the options are identified, the foreseeable benefits and harms that may result from each option are determined http://www.sme.ie/articles/business_ethics/thinking_ethically.pdf . Lastly, one compares the options and chooses the option that provides the greatest benefits and the least amount of harm to the business http://www.sme.ie/articles/business_ethics/thinking_ethically.pdf . In the utilitarian view, an option chosen via this ethical theory is considered to be morally right http://www.sme.ie/articles/business_ethics/thinking_ethically.pdf and is therefore ethical.

This decision making process may be likened to the cost benefit analysis, a commonly used business decision making tool. Although one may arrive at ethical decisions through the application of utilitarian theory, there are several disadvantages of using this ethical theory. Utilitarianism suggests that the decision maker assigns values to benefits and harms and subsequently compares these benefits and harms, this makes the utilitarian decision making process highly subjective http://www.sme.ie/articles/business_ethics/thinking_ethically.pdf . Predicting all the consequences of an action is difficult and as such it is possible that consequences which may cause great benefit or harm to the business are not factored into the decision making process. This method also, ignores the concept of justice and as such may cause several particular groups to be repeatedly disadvantaged for the betterment of the organization. Because of the critiques of this ethical theory it can be reasoned that it is best used in situations that are amoral or situations where the rightness or wrongness of a decision is not in question. An example or an ideal amoral situation is a situation where all the available options are moral. The application of this ethical approach in such situations removes the need for the consideration of justice and therefore addresses a major flaw of the utilitarian process.


Another concept that informs ethical decision making is moral character and fundamental human virtues. The idea of Moral character and virtues has always been a prominent topic of philosophical discussion among ancient philosophers. The foundation of these discussions was centralized in the goodness of humans and in particular, trying to discern what makes a person good http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-character/ . As such, a person’s character became the logical starting point in the resolution of this issue http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-character/#WhyChaMat . One’s traits and actions is what determines one’s character. Character, which is understood to mean the assemblage of qualities that distinguishes one individual from another http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-character/#WhyChaMat is comprised of the relatively stable traits or behaviours that a person consistently exhibits. Although all of these traits are not moral nature, they may have a significant impact on a person’s moral characterhttp://www.iep.utm.edu/moral-ch/#SH1a .

A person’s Moral Character is influenced by moral character traits and practical wisdom. A moral character trait is a disposition of character for which a person is morally responsible or is deserving of the resultant reactive attitudes. http://www.iep.utm.edu/moral-ch/#SH1a. Virtues, traits that are deserving of positive reactive attitudes such as praise or gratitude and vices, traits that are deserving of negative reactive attitudes, when combined with proper reasoning about the matter at hand, collectively inform moral character http://www.iep.utm.edu/moral-ch/#SH1a. In other words; virtues, vices and by extension moral character is not only influenced by the disposition of character, but also by practical wisdom. http://www.iep.utm.edu/moral-ch/#SH1a Practical wisdom is an intellectual virtue that is required for the development of virtues of character. This intellectual virtue is acquired through learning general rules and practice. Throughout the course of one’s life, we encounter situations that require reasoning to determine what actions are appropriate. It is through these experiences that practical wisdom is developed.

Practical wisdom, when combined with “proper habits” fuels the development of virtues such as justice, courage and temperance. [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/] Justice, courage and temperance are virtues which provide us with the interior strength to act well [domenec mele]. Justice governs relationships and it regulates one’s inclination to possess, to share and to give whilst, courage, the virtue of preserving or pursuing what is good despite the obstacles, regulates one’s inclination to overcome the obstacles to doing “good”. Lastly temperance regulates one’s inclination towards pleasure and is that virtue which provides self-mastery and avoidance of immoderate attachments [domenec mele]. These virtues each have common characteristics of providing a self-regulatory feature and encouraging behaviours that are in keeping with human excellence. As such, these virtues are considered to be fundamental [domenec mele].


The theory of deontology states we are morally obligated to act in accordance with a certain set of principles and rules regardless of outcome. Deontological theories holds that some acts are always wrong, even if the act leads to an admirable outcome and as such, in deontology the morality of an action is judged without regard for the outcome of that action. Deontology is based on the view of the human being having the unique capacity for rationality and it is exactly this ability that requires human beings to act in accordance with moral law or duty. http://sevenpillarsinstitute.org/morality-101/kantian-duty-based-deontological-ethics

In the deontological view, morality and moral character is primarily a function of acting in accordance with duties or obligations, regardless of the consequences of acting in accordance with those duties http://www.iep.utm.edu/moral-ch/ . Deontological theory goes on to apply this categorical imperative to making all decision “Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law” http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/80130/part2/sect8.html . This categorical imperative is Kant’s only guideline to making decisions. Simply explained it states that one should decide on an action only if they agree that everyone else should perform that action in all the time.

To be able to act in accordance with duty, fundamental virtues are required. Duties may be either perfect (precise, specifiable and enforceable) or imperfect (unspecific and unenforceable) in nature. Perfect duties require that one forgoes certain actions in order to be able to act in accordance with such a duty. Imperfect duties on the other hand, are duties to adopt certain ends and because of its unenforceable nature require self-mastery and strength of will. Continence therefore becomes a necessity for acting in accordance with duty. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-character/#Kan Continence or self-control requires the exercise of virtues, namely those of practical wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.7.vii.html MORAL CHARACTER OF COMPANIES

The ideas of moral character and fundamental virtues, though originally conceptualized to examine the ‘goodness’ of a person, can also be expanded to analyse the moral character of groups particularly businesses. Moral character is assessed as previously indicated by evaluating a person’s commitment to virtues or exercise of duty. The same method of assessment can be applied to a business. The moral character of a company may be determined through its duty based activities. The perfect duties of a company are those to which it is legally obligated whereas its imperfect duties deals are those where the company isn’t legally obligated but are duty bond to adopt particular ends.

As such, the company’s adherence to the laws of the land, how the company treats with contractual agreements, examination of the company’s ethical policy or code and review of the company’s decision to ensure that they are in accordance with the company’s duties are the factors that influence the moral character of a company.

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