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Pragmatic ethics Case Study

Pragmatic ethics is an emerging field of ethics that perceives ethics as science, which consists of both theory and practice. Proponents of pragmatic ethics argue that, ethical theory and moral practice are integral components of ethics in that, either of them cannot give a satisfactory definition of morality in society.

From a pragmatist’s point of view, ethics require logical thinking and empirical actions for one to comprehend the nature of ethics fully in a complex society, where actions can hardly fall into two categories viz. right or wrong. Serra (2010) argues that, moral inquiry needs deliberation that involves analysis and weighing up principles, beliefs, and arguments relative to reality (p.101).

Therefore, in this light, pragmatic ethics are not conventional, but vary from one society to another or one organization to another due to differing circumstances. Pragmatic ethics manifests itself in habits that influence human, organizational, or societal behaviour; hence, it best elucidates varied ethics that people apply on various circumstances of life.

The case study of Mount Isa shows how the government, city council and Xstrata Company are employing pragmatic ethics in their defence against accusations of polluting the environment.

Even though several families are suing the government, council and Xstrata for allowing lead dust from Mount Isa mines to pollute their homes, waterways and gardens, which resulted into high levels of lead in blood of their children, they have not put appropriate measures to control pollution.

Nyberg (2008) debates that; pragmatic ethics require contextualization of actions coupled with, and linking, the actions to ethics according to circumstances that they occur (p.589). In the case study, Xstrata together with the government and council are treating lead pollution as a unique occurrence that only needs exceptional interventions from within Xstrata.

The government, council, and Xstrata are attributing the lead pollution to outcrops of rocks that occur in Mount Isa. Consequently, these bodies advice the community to live safely with lead in spite of the external pressures from Queensland’s Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires regulation of lead pollution because it affects physical and intellectual development of children.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics focus on exceptional deeds that elevate wellbeing of people in society or an organization. According to virtue theory of ethics, virtuous person will act virtuously to benefit all people because virtue is a motivational force of actions. Since habits form the basis of ethics, virtue ethics depend on day-to-day activities that people do, in that spontaneous decisions spring from attributes of virtues in a person.

Nyberg (2008) argues that virtue is innate attribute of a human being that comes spontaneously without application of ethical principles (p.589). Therefore, virtue ethics guide people in their daily activities making them act virtuously for the benefit of others and the entire society.

In circumstances where moral rules and virtue conflict, virtue ethics takes precedence because they are flexible and applicable in complex situations. Usually, virtuous people employ virtue ethics when formulating ethical rules that are fundamental to making decisions and regulating actions.

From virtue point of view, Mount Isa mining is unfortunate because it poses serious health threat to a large number of individuals of about 23,000. Queensland Department of Health and EPA did protest that lead pollution is occurring because of negligence by concerned authorities.

Compelled by virtues, EPA manager resigned and accused the government of negligence as Sonenshein (2005) contends that, organizational members can effectively criticize their organization after stepping outside (p.478). The government, council, and Xstrata do not care about the effects of mining lead on population, especially children as it causes physical and intellectual impairment.

According to Audi (2009), virtue motivates people to aim at the right things by using right means to achieve desired ends (p.9).

However, the government and the council have given Xstrata powers to regulate its own pollution making it release a large amount of emissions that tripled the amount recommended under national environmental regulations. Thus, Xstrata did not employ virtue ethics in its mining process relative to health concern of Mount Isa’s residents.

Egalitarian Approach

Egalitarian approach to ethics requires that people should receive equal treatment in society despite their different social, economic and cultural backgrounds. According to Moss (2009), egalitarianism enhances equality in society by promoting fair procedures of employment, business, and acquisition of resources (p.7).

People are continuously struggling in life to improve their economic and social status; thus, egalitarianism seeks to provide a level ground where each person has equal access to opportunities that are essential in improving wellbeing. Therefore, if people require equality to prevail in society in various aspects such as social, health, economic, and political, they should utilize egalitarian ethics.

Sonenshein (2005) asserts that, organizational members create moral standards that are applicable across an organization as a way of promoting equality (p.476). Equality is a key factor that determines organizational ethics according to egalitarian perspective. Therefore, it is moral for equality to prevail in society or organization.

In the case study, several families have sued the government, council, and Xstrata for neglecting health concerns of Mount Isa’s population because the mining is emitting enormous amount of lead into the environment that pose a serious risk to human health.

From the egalitarian perspective, Queensland Department of Health and the EPA are accusing Xstrata of not following international standards of ethics in controlling lead pollution. Study carried out shows that 10% of young children have high levels of lead in their blood, which is above 10mcg/dl, threshold limit recommended by World Health Organization (WHO).

The health department and EPA hold that, Mount Isa’s population need equal treatment like other populations across the world because high levels of lead in the blood of children are deleterious to their health. Moss (2009) argues that, people need equal treatment because they have same worth and dignity (p.4). Thus, Mount Isa’s population requires similar health concerns as other population across the world.

Deontological Approach

Deontological ethics holds that morality is an inherent attribute of an action rather than its consequences. Since humans act according to certain principles and rules of life, deontological weigh whether those actions are compliant. Basing on deontological perspective of ethics, actions that strictly follow stipulated principles and rules are ethical while those that do not comply with any principle or rule are unethical.

According to Nyberg (2008), deontological approach to ethics uses moral rules that reflect justice, rights, and duty in the analysis of an ethical nature of actions (p.587). Hence, deontological approach to ethics deals with nature of actions in contrast to consequential approach that examines outcomes of actions.

Bowie (1999) asserts that, business that puts money first is immoral because it does not care about its customers (p.34). According to deontological approach to ethics, if a business is acting virtuously to achieve an unimpeachable reputation rather than for the sake of morality, it thus means that it is acting immorally.

From deontological perspective, the government, council, and Xstrata are acting immorally in Mount Isa mining because their priority is to obtain money. Since Xstrata generates millions of dollars, the government and council derive vast amounts of revenues and royalties, and they have neglected health concerns at Mount Isa’s population because what matters to them is money.

The government has given powers Xstrata to regulate its pollution, thus providing it with too much freedom to continue pollution homes, gardens and waterways with lead as it has tripled its emissions. Abdullah and Valentine (2009) contend that, inconsistency of human actions with rules and principles reflects deviation from ethics (p.5).

In the case study, Xstrata did not comply with national environmental regulations because it emitted triple amount of emissions recommended. Moreover, the government has left Xstrata to control its emissions rather than to be under control of EPA. Instead of reducing its emissions, Xstrata advised the population on living safely with lead.

Ethics of Duties

Ethics of duty focuses on actions that people can do in a given circumstance. Ethics of duty rely on the premise that people who are in power have the moral responsibility of ensuring that, society or organizations perform actions, which are ethical to promote human welfare and growth of businesses.

According to Crane and Matten (2010), corporate leaders have the ethical duty to act in promotion of ethics regarding contemporary issues such as globalization, citizenship and sustainability of resources (p.123). Ethics of duties emanate from decisions and orders that leaders issue when they face ethical challenges in the course of their businesses.

Since ethical dilemmas are complex to resolve, Solomon (1993) reasons that, leaders need to tailor their decisions to varied circumstances because ethical principles vary from one place to another (p.358). Hence, ethics of duties enable people in leadership positions to act according to rules and principles to promote morality in society.

In the case study, the government has failed to act according to its responsibility of ensuring that Mount Isa’s population receives essential protection from lead pollution.

Likewise, the city council has neglected health issues associated with Mount Isa mining because, in conjunction with the government and Xstrata, they have conspired to refute claims that lead pollution is responsible for increased levels of lead in blood among children. Solomon (1993) indicates that, negligence is a problem that many organizations are grappling with because it elicits ethical dilemmas that are difficult to handle (p.361).

Millions of dollars that Xstrata is generating has blinded the council and government from responding appropriately to lead pollution by ensuring that there is compliance with national environmental regulations, as a way of protecting Isa’s population from lead pollution.

The EPA and Queensland Department of Health have taken their responsibilities by showing the nature and extent of lead pollution in Mount Isa’s surroundings.


Abdullah, H., & Valentine, B., 2009. Fundamental and Ethics Theories of Corporate Governance. Middle Eastern Finance and Economics, 4, pp.1-9.

Audi, R., 2009. Virtue Ethics as a Resource in Business. Society for Business Ethics. pp.1-28.

Bowie, N., 1999. Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Crane, A., & Matten, D., 2010. Evaluating Business Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moss, J., 2009. Egalitarianism and the Value of Equality. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, 6(4), pp.1-7.

Nyberg, D., 2008. The Morality of Everyday Activities: Not the Right, But the Good Thing to Do. Journal of Business Ethics, 81(26), pp.587-598.

Serra, J., 2010. What is and What Should Pragmatic Ethics Be? Some Remarks on Recent Scholarship. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, 2(2), pp.100-112.

Solomon, R., 1993. Business Ethics. In P. Singer (Ed.), A companion to ethics. (pp. 354-365). Oxford: Blackwell.

Sonenshein, S., 2005. Business Ethics and Internal Social Criticism. Business Ethics Quarterly, 15(3), pp.475-498.

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"Pragmatic ethics." IvyPanda, 17 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/pragmatic-ethics-case-study/.

1. IvyPanda. "Pragmatic ethics." December 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pragmatic-ethics-case-study/.


IvyPanda. "Pragmatic ethics." December 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pragmatic-ethics-case-study/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Pragmatic ethics." December 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pragmatic-ethics-case-study/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Pragmatic ethics'. 17 December.

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