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Philosophic Dilemma Essay

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Updated: Feb 28th, 2020

If, as the President of Helpo Pharmaceuticals, I was to assess the provided ethical dilemma within the conceptual framework of Utilitarian theory, I would end up deciding in favor of subjecting South African villagers to drug-testing, as something fully ethical/moral.

This is because, given the fact that Utilitarian theory’s foremost theoretical premise is being concerned with the notion of ‘maximization of benefits’ 1, it will only be logical, on my part, to assume that the potential benefits, which will come as a result of people in Western countries being provided with the effective cancer-drug, would dramatically overweigh the dubious benefits of considering the lives of South African villagers as such that represent a some kind of ‘sanctified’ value.

After all, according to the proponents of Utilitarian theory, it is only one’s life that can be enjoyed, which deserves ‘living’, in the first place. This partially explains why Utilitarianists tend to think of the notion of ‘life’s worth’ as being synonymous with the notion of ‘pleasure’, regardless of whether this pleasure is being of sensual, aesthetic or intellectual essence: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.

It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do”.2 And, as we are being well aware of – there has always been a positive correlation between the extent of people lives’ ‘enjoyableness’ and these people’s ability to act as the agents of cultural/social/technological progress.

This is exactly the reason why Western countries continue to serve as a magnet to the hordes of legal and illegal immigrants from the Third World. Once in Western countries, these people find themselves in a position to start enjoying their lives, for a change, as opposed to be continuously preoccupied with looking for eatable insects and plants, in time free from indulging in a tribal warfare, as it is often being the case in their native ‘spiritually rich’ but technologically and culturally backward countries.

Therefore, when assessed through the lenses of Utilitarian theory, there is nothing unethical about subjecting South African villagers to drug-testing – even if some of these people die, during the course of a process, it will not account for any real tragedy, whatsoever.

The reason for this is simple – just as it is being the case with the value of natural resources, for example, the value of one’s life is never ‘intrinsic’ but always ‘circumstantial’. To put it plainly – the more there are people, whose existence depends on technology-extensive exploitation of natural resources (as it is being the case in Africa), the more their lives drop in value, and vice versa.

Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that in Africa, the value of one’s life appears particularly cheap – after all, for a duration of the last few decades, most African countries never ceased suffering from the acute problem of overpopulation. And, the lesser appears to be the value of a particular individual’s life, the lesser would be the number of potential objections against turning such an individual into the subject of drug-testing – pure and simple.3

When, as the President of Helpo Pharmaceuticals, I was to analyze the dilemma of whether to make South African villages the subjects of a drug-testing within the framework of Kantian theory, I would come to a qualitatively opposite conclusion. Specifically – I would assume a strongly defined negative stance towards the idea that humans can be used as the subjects of medical experimentation.

This is because such an idea stands in striking opposition to the foremost principle of Kant’s moral philosophy, commonly known as ‘categorical imperative’: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.4 Given the fact that I would not like any medicine to be tested on me, especially if I remained completely unaware of it, I do not have a moral right to suggest that such a testing could be done on others.

There is also another reason why, if I believed in the conceptual legitimacy of Kantian ethics, I would refrain from experimenting with the new cancer-drug on South-African villagers – experimenting on humans can never become a commonplace practice. It is important to understand that the actual reason why Utilitarian theorists would most definitely refer to such a practice as fully appropriate is that, in their eyes, it is being circumstantially justified.

Kantian theory, however, suggests that the measure of just about any practice’s ethical appropriateness is being reflective of the extent of its ‘universality’: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”. 5

In other words, in order for the Kantians to be able to refer to the idea that South African villagers may be subjected to a medical experimentation as ethically legitimate, there would have to be no obstacles on the way of adopting the practice of secret medical experimentation on humans, as the integral part of health care system’s overall functioning. This, however, would prove impossible.

Deciding in favor of allowing South African villagers to be experimented upon would also contradict another important provision of Kantian ethics, concerned with emphasizing the sheer inappropriateness of referring to people as merely the ‘means’.6

Nevertheless, given the fact that Kantian theory insists that the extent of just about every ethics-related decision positively relates to the measure of such a decision’s affiliation with the notion of rationale, there is a theoretical possibility for the idea of subjecting South African villagers to drug-testing to be defined as being perfectly ethical.

This is because it is specifically the rationale-driven realization of a simple fact that the testing of a new cancer-drug on South African villagers may save the lives of millions and millions of incurably ill patients with cancer, which prompted me to consider giving ‘go ahead’ to this testing, in the first place.

After all, even today it remains a universal practice among health care professionals to go about providing their patients with the treatment in a manner that often appears irrespective of these patients’ emotional anxieties.

For example, if the only way to save a particular patient’s life would be amputating his or her gangrened leg, it will be amputated – regardless of whether the patient agrees with it or not. This actually points out to Kantian theory’s foremost shortcoming – apparently, contrary to what this theory implies, treating people as ‘means’ often appears to be fully consistent with the principle of universality.

The main theoretical premise, upon which the provisions of Virtue Ethicist theory appear to be based, is the assumption that – neither the initial intention, behind one’s choosing in favor of a particular course of action, nor such action’s actual consequences, may be truly reflective of the extent of action’s ethical appropriateness.

It is specifically the nature of action’s varying affiliation with Aristotelian four basic ‘virtues’ (justice, temperance, courage and wisdom) that provides us with the insight into whether such an action could be considered ethically legitimate or not.7 In its turn, this suggests theory’s implicational ambiguity – hence, making it quite inapplicable, when it comes to dealing with truly complicated ethical issues.

For example, if I was to utilize Virtue Ethicist theory, while assessing the ethical subtleties of an idea of subjecting South African to drug-testing, there would be a number of good reasons for me to think of proceeding with this idea’s practical implementation as being fully ethical.

After all, such a decision, on my part, would be fully consistent with:

a) the virtue of courage (by testing the new cancer-drug on South African villagers, I would be exposed to the prospect of facing criminal charges)

b) the virtue of temperance (I would make a point in reducing the number of human guinea pigs down to a minimum)

c) the virtue of justice (depriving millions and millions of Western cancer-patients of a chance to save their lives, at the expense of saving the lives of few South African tribesmen, would be deemed unjust)

d) the virtue of wisdom (the notion of wisdom usually proves utterly inconsistent with the notion of conventional morality, especially if this morality has clearly defined religious or ‘politically correct’ undertones to it).

This is actually the reason why it never occurred to the Nazi surgeons that their practice of turning concentration camps’ inmates into human guinea pigs was unethical – in these people’s minds, such their practice was deemed highly virtuous. In its turn, this once again exposes the conceptual fallaciousness of an idea that the extent of a particular action’s ethical appropriateness/inappropriateness is being irrespective of this action’s actual consequences.

I believe that the provided earlier line of argumentation, in regards to how the case study’s dilemma would be perceived through the conceptual lenses of Utilitarian, Kantian, and Virtue Ethicist theories, suggests that it is namely the utilization of Utilitarian theory (to address this dilemma) should be considered the most appropriate.

This is because, unlike what it is being the case with Kantian and Virtue Ethicist theories, Utilitarian theory is being correlative with the innermost subtleties of how people indulge in a rationale-driven cognition. After all, while tackling a particular challenge, we are being naturally prompted to assess the appropriateness/inappropriateness of addressing this challenge in one way or another in regards to how we may benefit/suffer from adopting a particular stance towards the challenge.

For example, if I was asked to lend $100 to the one of my closest friends, I would most likely to decide in favor of lending the money. If, however, my closest friend had approached me with the request to lend him $10.000, without having to sign any legal papers, I would decline this request as ‘unethical’. This is because the latter scenario implies that the potential risk of losing $10.000 overweigh the potential benefits of staying on good terms with my friend.

The same can be said about the ethical subtleties of an idea of subjecting South African villagers to medical experimentation. As it was shown in paper’s Part 1, the benefits of making the new-cancer drug available to the patients (which could only be accomplished if this drug is being thoroughly tested on humans), overweigh the benefits of not endangering these villagers’ lives, especially given the fact that there is no particularly high value to their lives, in the first place.


1 See Bentham’s conceptualization of ‘maximization of benefits’ (p. 38).

2 Despite such Bentham suggestion’s simplicity, it nevertheless remains scientifically legitimate (p. 38).

3 Utilitarian theory denies objectiveness to the concept of ‘human rights’ (p. 41).

4 Kant’s ‘moral imperative’ does not allow people’s ‘objectualization’ (p. 43)

5 Kant refers to the appropriateness/inappropriateness of just about every act as ‘thing in itself’ (p. 43).

6 Kant specifies that under no circumstances may people’s well-being be sacrificed for the sake of some ‘higher good’ (p. 43).

7 Aristotle also defines nine additional or ‘second order’ virtues (p. 44).


Tittle, P. (2000). Ethical issues in business: inquiries, cases, and readings. Peterborough: Broadview Press Ltd.

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