71203 Business Ethics
Drawing on ethical theory to critique a claim.
Businesses putting something back
into the local community...
...Morally obligatory - or not?
Utilitarian and Kantian Moral Theory Viewpoints
Tanya Lundie 9118692
27 March 2009
Rainbow (2002) describes ethical theories as being “...the foundations of ethical analysis...” because they are viewpoints from which guidance can be obtained in the interests of determining “...what counts as acting ethically...” (The Open Polytechnic, 2009, p.15). This essay draws on such ‘foundations’ to critique a claim about what makes an action morally obligatory for businesses. It is presented in four parts, the aim being to clarify my understanding of the positions of two ethical theories in particular; Utilitarianism and Kantian Moral Theory (Kantianism). First, I’ll explain the purpose of ethical theory in ethics; giving consideration to why only one theory can be right. Next, I’ll outline the abovementioned theories. Then, drawing on their promulgations, I’ll critically discuss the claim, highlighting general problems in the process. I’ll then outline and assess a criticism detractors might level at each theory, and I’ll close by clarifying my position on what these theories would make of the claim.
The purpose of ethical theory can be explained in terms of its role in the normative approach taken to studying ethics. This requires critically considering the basic moral norms people should adhere to in the interests of acting ethically; how they should value humans (and other beings) in their actions (The Open Poly, 2009); what should they consider in so doing; how should they act as a result; and, most importantly, why? The ultimate aims being, to prescribe conduct; judge actions; underwrite judgements; and, justify moral beliefs. Ethical theories are proposed, criticised, defended, revised, re-proposed and-so-on in on-going pursuit of this aim; becoming reference points on a “...substantial framework...” (Rainbow, 2002). Collectively, they “...attempt to offer fundamental justification for judgements about the morality or immorality of actions, and provide a basis for making claims about moral obligations...” (V Scholes, personal communication, 15 March 2009). Individually, they provide definitions, supported by reasoned arguments, laying claim to (and justifying) what is of fundamental importance in terms of what counts as an ethically correct action. They are mutually incompatible (The Open Poly, 2009). You can not logically question the morality/immorality of actions with reference to more than one theory at once because you risk finding conflicting and irreconcilable answers given their diverse, sometimes diametrically opposed claims regards just what is fundamental to account for, in valuing others in actions. Even when more than one theory endorses the same action, the reasoning behind, and justification for, why that action ‘counts’ will not be the same. Which goes some way to explaining ‘why only one theory can be right’. I’ll clarify. If each theory claims to have encapsulated the very essence of what is the most fundamental, ethically, about judging and justifying actions, yet they all express disparate, indeed contradictory notions of exactly what that is, there isn’t need to decide which is right, to know that only one possibly can be. After all, what is, the most fundamental is singular, one-off...full-stop! An analogy. Consider all the religious persuasions in the world; all means to worship God(s); all laying claim to the fundamental means to do so; yet readily distinguished by the very different ways they go about this. Now, depending on, say, life experience, we will identify with/believe in/follow a ‘personal’ preference. Can we say that it is ‘right’ and another is ‘wrong’? No. But what we can say, with certainty, is that only one can be right.
The contrasting positions of Kantianism and...
References: Beauchamp, T.L., Bowie, N.E. & Arnold, D.G. (Eds). (2008) Ethical theory and business (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Chryssides, G.D., & Kaler, J.H. (1993). An introduction to business ethics. London, England: Chapman and Hall.
Rachels, J., & Rachels, S. (2007). The elements of moral philosophy (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2009). Modules 1 and 2. In 71203 Business Ethics. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Author.
 One of the most influential exponents of this theory. (The Open Poly, 2009).
 Imperative - it demands; categorical - commands are binding and absolute (The Open Poly, 2009).
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