Ethical Theories

Topics: Utilitarianism, Rights, Negative and positive rights Pages: 5 (1567 words) Published: October 24, 2008
Ethical Theories
Utilitarianism is most often associated with Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). According to utilitarianism principle, a decision is ethical if it provides the greater utility than any other alternative decision. Thus the decision maker must evaluate each decision alternative, and then select the one that yields the greatest net utility (Fritzsche, 1997). There two types of utilitarianism, act and rule. Individual decisions are evaluated under act utilitarianism when the moral value of a decision is determined by the consequences of the specific act (Fritzsche, 1997). Basically act utilitarianism is a simpler theory and provides an easily understood decision procedure. On the other hand rule utilitarianism seems to give firmer ground, however, to the rules of morality and to role obligations, which are problems for all teleological theories. A further advantage of rule utilitarianism, according to its proponents, is that it eliminates the difficult task of calculating the consequences of each individual act (Boatright, 2007). Benefits of Utilitarianism

First, utilitarianism is committed to the maximization of the good and the minimization of the harm and evil. It asserts that society ought always to produce the greatest possible balance of positive value or the minimum balance of disvalue for all persons affected. The means to maximization is efficiency, a goal that persons in business find congenial, because it is highly prized throughout the economic sector (Beauchamp & Bowie, 2004). Many businesses, as well as government agencies, have adopted specific tools such as cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, or management by objectives (MBO), all of which are strongly influenced by a utilitarian philosophy. Another essential feature of utilitarian theory is a theory of the good. Efficiency itself is simply as instrumental good, that is, it is valuable strictly as means to something else. In the corporation, efficiency is valuable as a means to growth and to profit maximization. Within the ethical theory, efficiency is the means for maximizing human good (Beauchamp & Bowie, 2004). In addition, a third essential feature of utilitarianism is its commitment to the measurement and comparison of goods. With the hedonistic view (maximize pleasure), people must be able to measure pleasurable and painful states and be able to compare one person’s pleasure with another’s to decide which is greater (Beauchamp & Bowie, 2004). Limitations of utilitarianism

Several difficulties are encountered by a manager using consequentialist approach. First, it is often very difficult if not impossible to foresee all the consequences of a business decision. Accurate forecast of outcomes are required in situations where very little data or experience is available. The more complex the decision, the harder it becomes (Fritzsche, 1997). Second many decisions have consequences that are not easily measured and often lack common measurement units. For example installing emission control equipment on a smokestack to meet the current environmental requirements may cost $500,000. Equipment that will reduce emissions to half that amount may cost $1,5 million. Which equipment should be purchased? The costs are quite easy to determine. However, the gain utility from each piece of equipment is a bit more murky (Fritzsche, 1997). Rights

Rights-based theory hold that rights from the justifying basis of obligations because they best express the purpose of morality, which is securing of liberties or other benefits for right holder (Gewirth, 1996). These obligations are of two types: Negative obligations are those that require that we not interfere with the liberty of others, thus securing liberty rights. Positive obligations require that certain people or institutions provide benefits or services, thus benefit rights or welfare rights (Mack, 1985). Correlatively, a negative right is a valid claim to...
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