This reflection paper will discuss the six ethical systems learned in this accounting ethics course. The systems include egoism, enlightened egoism, utilitarianism, deontology, justice, and virtue ethics. We will define and evaluate the various ethical systems and discuss the beliefs supporting them. For this reflection paper, we will discuss in further lengths one specific ethical system, enlightened egoism. We will also analyze enlightened egoism from a Christian worldview. The purpose of this reflection paper is to understand the six ethical reasoning methods bases for making ethical judgments.
Ethical reasoning method bases are an important factor in how managers and accountants make vital business decisions. Mintz & Morris (2020) state that “the ancient Greeks believed that reason and thought to precede the choice of action and that we deliberate about things we can influence with our decisions” (p. 19). Every individual has a unique way they process information and how they go forth to apply that information. Their ethical reasoning can typically be categorized into one of the specific ethical systems that we will discuss in greater lengths in this reflection paper.
Before discussing the ethical systems, I would like to notate that there is no specific ethical system that is accepted by every individual or organization (Mintz & Morris, 2020, p. 20).
To reiterate, the six ethical systems we are evaluating are egoism, enlightened egoism, utilitarianism, deontology, justice, and virtue ethics. Behind each method are morals and virtues that encourage and motivate people to make ethical decisions.
For some methods such as egoism and enlightened egoism, personal gain is a motivational force that pushes someone to make judgements and decisions. Opposingly, an ethical system such as virtue ethics, an individual is inclined to make the best or better decision simply based on what is right because it is part of their character. Below, we will define each ethical system and the beliefs that support them.
Egoism is the ethical system used by a person operating in a way for personal gain and self-interests. Egoists are the people that are categorized under egoism because they will step on others toes and perform other unethical acts so long as the outcome will benefit themself. Debeljak and Krkac (2008) explains that egoism “is the phenomenon of acting in strict accordance with one’s own desires, wishes, and best interests in terms of self-preservation, or self-interest satisfaction, or preference satisfaction” (para. 1). Although there is no ethical system universally accepted, a group could say that egoism may be the most unethical system in ethical reasoning. However, in some circumstances, being an egoist can make yourself and an entire corporation very successful. That is why there is a common belief that sociopaths make for successful businessmen and women. Although, I am not stating all egoist are sociopaths or vice versa. Lastly, under other circumstances, egoism is the easiest ethical reasoning to apply because it can be harder to please all others when the resources are easily available to suit your own needs and wants. Along with egoism, one can use enlightened egoism as an ethical reasoning method.
Enlightened egoism is considered somewhat controversial because the belief is that enlightened egoists only act in good faith because it will benefit their self-interests. However, if an enlightened egoist is obeying rules and not knowingly participating in unethical activities to benefit from personal gain, then enlightened egoists cannot be completely grouped with egoists. Mintz & Morris (2020) demonstrate that “enlightened egoists may abide by professional codes of ethics, avoid cheating on taxes, and create safe working conditions because it helps achieve some ultimate goes for the enlightened egoist, such as advancement within the firm” (p. 22). Despite what may seem as selfish from a Christian worldview, enlightened egoism is generally a beneficial ethical system to a business and in accounting because they ration in third parties in their decision making. We will discuss enlightened egoism more in this reflection paper.
Utilitarianism involves evaluating all possible options and the consequences of the actions taken to determine which is the best option for everyone or the option that has the lesser consequences. Utilitarianism also involves ensuring what is best for everyone. Or as Mintz and Morris (2020) explain “Utilitarian’s believe they should make decisions that result in the greatest total utility or the greatest benefit for all those affected by a decision” (p. 23). Another belief shared by utilitarian’s is that personal gains are set aside when determining the best courses of action and their following consequences. There is a specific kind of utilitarianism named Mill’s utilitarianism which is formed around the basis of utilitarian business ethic as claimed by Andrew Gustafson (2013) and explains three aspects of the concept saying it is consequentialist, takes account of long-term consequences, and it entails nurturing moral education in culture (para. 10). It appears utilitarians would use moral behaviors to make the better decision however, under act utilitarianism, lying and other unethical methods will be used if it provides the greater good.
Deontology is essentially based on reason and duty. “Deontology refers to moral philosophies that focus on the rights of individuals and on the intentions associated with a particular behavior, rather than on its consequences” (Mintz & Morris, 2020, p. 24). Furthermore, Mintz and Morris (2020) explain that deontologist believe moral norms establish a basis for action (p. 25). Deontologists focus on respecting rights of others and understand that a duty comes with respecting those rights especially regarding making decisions and processing information in a business and accounting.
Similar to what was discussed above in deontology, justice deals with the rights of others. Justice is something that applies frequently in the world and outside the realm of business. It implies an eye for an eye and what you do or the decisions you make will come back to you. Mintz & Morris (2020) state “The most fundamental principle of justice, defined by Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago, is that ‘equals should be treated equally and unequal’s unequally’” (p. 27). Inside the world of business and accounting, we regard to procedural justice which supports a positive justice system of protection as opposed to justice simply meaning a form of punishment for an action.
Virtue ethics is the ethical system that promotes the decision or action a person makes is because it is the right thing to do no matter the consequences and outcomes. Virtuous people are born into character traits that simply make them “good” or what others would ideally look up to mimic. However, virtuous traits can be formed by habit over time. Mintz and Morris (2020) claim the heart of the virtue approach to ethics is the idea of ‘community’ (p.28). One does not ethical virtuous acts for any self-gain but for the good of their surroundings and do not seek any fulfillment from money or fame. On the contrary to consequentialists beliefs, McPherson (2013) claims that “any viable virtue ethic approach to business must be at odds with consequentialists approaches that subject the performance of virtuous actions in business” (p. 285).
After analyzing and discussing the six previous ethical systems, I believe I identify most with enlightened egoism. From a Christian worldview, I am okay with this decision despite the fact a devout Christian could argue that it is wrong due to the fact enlightened egoist have personal agendas and a level of selfishness when making decisions. I feel as though keeping the best interest of others at heart as well in these decisions is ethical in business and a Christian worldview. You would not gift a homeless person your home so you could in turn be homeless, especially when you have a family to think about or a mortgage. Instead you could provide resources and volunteer for the homeless through charity, which is what God expects of you as an obedient Christian. Enlightened egoists benefit themselves and often their company by making decisions which are considered ethical in business. I do not believe there are any completely selfless acts, even under virtue ethics and virtuous people. Why not make an appropriate decision that will benefit your company and simultaneously yourself, so long as you remain ethical of course? A verse I would like to refer to when speaking of enlightened egoism is Philippians 2:4 (English Standard Version) “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”