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Philosophy is broadly used for interpreting every area of human interactions and development. Spheres of professional and business relations are not exceptions to the overall trend. There are numerous philosophical approaches, which might be deployed to analyze these fields of interactions. Each popular theory might be beneficial for the better apprehension of business and professional development.
Nevertheless, this paper will focus on studying utilitarianism. The motivation for choosing this philosophy is its popularity among the majority of the representatives of the English-speaking world and its focus on happiness. The primary objective of the project is to investigate the aspects of this philosophical approach applied to ethics and use it for analyzing real-life examples of actors operating in professional and business environments. It is another reason for selecting utilitarianism: assessing companies and studying real-world illustrations from the perspective of making people happy is challenging but, at the same time, appealing.
Utilitarianism as an Ethical Theory
Utilitarianism had philosophical roots before it evolved into ethical theory. In philosophy, it refers to analyzing situations or cases from the perspective of the maximum utility. It means that the emphasis is made on evaluating what benefits a group of people under consideration the most.
When the theory was transferred to the field of ethics, the emphasis shifted to measuring happiness. This step was taken by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, who are the first representatives of classical utilitarianism. They claimed that assessing potential consequences of actions should be the only guide when making vital decisions. In addition to it, the authors propose to consider justice and beneficence as well as recognize the fact that no decision or action could be seen as a minor one because the aftermaths of all activities and decisions are of the same significance (Hales 1608).
In ethics, the postulates of utilitarianism focus on maximizing happiness and minimizing unhappiness. It means that every activity or situation is judged based on how many people were made happier or unhappier because of it. The extent of happiness and unhappiness is used for determining whether to consider the decision right or wrong. Situation or activity refers to laws, social institutions, social relations, public policies, morality, etc.
There are several ethical pillars of utilitarianism. The foundation of the theory is John Mill’s standard of morals. Its primary idea is classifying actions and decisions as right or wrong based on the possibility that they will lead to pleasure or pain. If positive consequences outweigh negative ones, i.e. more people are made happy than unhappy, than activity is the right one. Otherwise, it is believed to be the wrong one (West 10).
The second pillar of utilitarianism is the belief in the importance of keeping in mind the interests of everyone, who will be influenced by an individual’s (company’s or country’s) decisions instead of being egotistical and seeing personal benefit as the primary priority in life (Velasquez et al. par. 10). That said, utilitarianism preaches the idea that the unhappiness of one is less important than the happiness of the majority.
From this standpoint, it might justify murders, discrimination, and other unethical activities, if they produce more happiness than unhappiness. Finally, utilitarianism is based on consequentialism, i.e. the same importance of all decisions and the inevitability of avoiding them.
Because of the pillars mentioned above, this ethical approach often becomes the subject of severe criticism. First of all, it seems to be ignoring justice because the primary emphasis is made on benefitting the majority of a group allowing some unethical decisions if they make more people happy than unhappy. In addition to it, the theory is self-defeating because of ignoring personal interests and focusing on the needs of a group.
It also makes the approach too demanding and limiting freedom of choice. Finally, utilitarianism requires calculating consequences. However, it does not consider the fact that they depend not only on the inner will of an individual but also on numerous external factors such as environmental, economic, and political forces as well as activities of other people. Altogether, these factors contribute to making it impossible to calculate the consequences of activities. Nevertheless, utilitarianism remains one of the most popular theories of normative ethics. That is why it will be used for analyzing real-life decisions.
Blood for Sale
Doing business is not always based on honesty because the desire to become prosperous is blinding. Sol Levin, a stockbroker in Tampa, Florida, and his colleagues were unhappy to make sure that this statement is true. Finding out that selling blood is a profitable business, they established Plasma International. Experiencing some hardships during the very first years of the company’s operation, the co-founders decided to sell blood taken from drug addicts and alcoholics because they were the only people, who were willing to sell their blood. As the company started increasing its influence and economic power, it needed more blood donors.
After conducting numerous tests, Plasma International signed contracts with West African minorities living in Florida and their tribal chieftains. There is no problem with this kind of business because the company has chosen the needy as donors, who agreed to any conditions. However, as it turned out later, it resold blood bought for 15 cents for one pint at the price of 25 dollars per pint (Shaw 77). Its primary customers were hospitals located across the United States and Latin America.
The dirty business of Plasma International has captured the attention of international mass media. The central idea promoted in most newspaper articles was that blood and plasma are sold like common commodities in the United States and American companies do not value people’s lives because they see biomaterials as another source of colossal revenues.
This segment of the market was often compared to the experience of Great Britain offering free blood and plasma to hospitals instead of selling them at extremely high prices and turning it into another source of income (Shaw 78). Similar commercialization of blood and plasma points to the commercialization of human life. Of course, it is beneficial for the American economy as the whole improving its structure and strengthening it from the inside. However, what about the ethical side of the story?
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The experience of Plasma International involves three parties – donors, recipients, and the company itself. In the first view, the objective of the company’s operation seems to be noble because hospitals are always short of blood and plasma necessary for saving lives. However, taking a closer look reveals the ethical ugliness of the situation. Driven by the desire to maximize profits, the founders ignored the risks of hepatitis and other disease buying blood of alcohol and drug addicts during the first years of the company’s operation. When they finally found healthy donors, they paid them peanuts if compared to the prices they charged the hospitals with.
That said, Plasma International ignored potentially dangerous consequences of its business activities and put personal interest above the happiness of the others. Even though hospitals and recipients were happy because they received the needed biomaterials, the gap between prices was gigantic, which made donors unhappy. The general conclusion is the following: if Plasma International charged hospitals with lower prices or paid more to donors, its decisions might have been ethically right. However, by utilitarianism, they were wrong and evil.
One Nation under Walmart
Today, Walmart is the biggest retailer in the world. It runs more than 8,400 stores all over the globe. In the United States, it attracts more than 140 million visitors every week and controls around 15 to 30 percent of the market as well as 10 percent of imports from China (Shaw 145). The most prominent feature of Walmart is its low prices. It is the primary factor leading to its success because the company is big and influential enough to control the level of prices and sell goods at prices lower than offered by the competitors.
Even though Walmart’s low prices policy seems attractive to customers, it is the subject of criticism. Because the company is extremely influential, it rules smaller rivals out of business. It, in turn, hurts local economies entailing higher unemployment rates. In addition to it, wages paid by Walmart are extremely low adding to the problem of poverty. On a greater scale and in the longer, it would have a negative influence on the American economy.
That said, analyzing the case of Walmart from the perspective of utilitarianism, it is evident that its decisions and policies are the sources of unhappiness. Of course, it is unfelt in the short run because customers enjoy lower prices. Even bearing in mind low wages, 1.5 million unhappy employees are less than 180 million happy customers. Utilitarian theory hints that Walmart’s decisions are right and good in the short run because they make more people happy than unhappy. However, in the longer run, it would lead to economic restructuring and numerous concerns, making more people unhappy. It means that this case study is ambiguous and it is impossible to achieve an inclusive conclusion regarding it.
Consenting to Sexual Harassment
This study reviews the Vinson v. Taylor case. The central issue is sexual harassment. Michelle Vinson claimed that her supervisor Sidney Taylor harassed her. Initially, Vinson got involved in sexual relations with Taylor to repay for the position in the bank he helped her obtain. However, it happened after she had worked for one year. First, she rejected Taylor’s offer, but later they got involved in sexual relationships, which lasted for more than three years and had place during and after working hours. Vinson claimed that Tailor jeopardized her employment. So, she was forced to become involved. The supervisor, on the other hand, insisted that it was Vinson, who initiated their affair. By the court’s ruling, sexual relations were voluntary.
As Vinson appealed the case, the court decided to rule three distinct decisions. The first one was the following: she was not a victim of sexual harassment because she did not quit working in the bank and never left a notice of sexual harassment. The second finding related to the voluntary character of their sexual affair. Finally, the court ruled that there was no supervisor’s liability in forcing Vinson to intimate relationships because employees are not obliged to follow all instructions of their supervisors, especially if they exceed employment duties (Shaw 421).
According to the utilitarian theory, there is one unhappy woman and one happy man in this story. The ruling of the courts made the woman unhappy because they did not recognize that she had become a victim of sexual harassment at work. On the other hand, this ruling made the man happy because he was proven non-guilty. In this case, it is impossible to conclude whether the decisions were right or wrong because we do not have enough evidence. If there were people, who witnessed encounters, or we knew the gender of judges, it would be possible to speculate on the case. It is paramount to notice that this case study might be an example of gender discrimination.
Still, if we consider the interests of the parties involved, a person of higher rank is happier than a person occupying a lower position. It means that the decision was right although it might not have been just.
Professor Who “Did not Fear Death” Likely Saved, Students
Some people were born to become heroes. This statement is true about Liviu Librescu, a 76-year old professor, who saved his students from a mass murderer paying with his life. On the day of remembering Jews murdered during World War II, Virginia Tech became the action spot of a terrifying tragedy. A mass shooter planning an act of terrorism wanted to murder Jewish students attending the educational unit.
However, the professor barricaded the door giving his students the chance to get away from the classroom climbing out of windows (Slavin par. 3). His decision might have been motivated either by the desire to save young children or because he has witnessed the dreads of the concentration camps and murdering Jews. So, he might have wanted to avoid the repetition of the World War II horrors in the 21st century. Still, the only thing that matters is the act of heroism and the fact that Professor Librescu sacrificed his life to help his students.
According to the utilitarian approach, his decision is a good and right one. He never thought of personal interests and decided to benefit the majority granting them the chance to survive. Of course, this loss was painful for his family. However, focusing on the quantitative aspect of the theory, the consequences are more positive than negative. It means that the decision was right.
Face Transplant: “Highly Risky Experimentation”
This case study tells the story of Isabelle Denoire, who has become the first woman with a transplanted face. Isabelle was a divorced woman with two children, temporarily unemployed. As she fought with her daughter one evening, a girl left their home to stay overnight with her grandmother. The same night Isabelle was bitten by their dog leaving her face ugly. There are two versions of the story. According to Isabelle, she took sleeping drugs to calm down, but as she woke up to have a glass of water, the dog attacked her. Her daughter tells another kind of story believing that Isabelle wanted to commit suicide, and the dog wanted to rouse her.
Nevertheless, the fact remains: she was left without lips and the skin on her nose was ripped off. As the doctors stabilized Isabelle medically and carried out examinations, they concluded that she is in good health to have her face partially transplanted and return to normal life (Munson 61). The primary objective of the surgery was not aesthetical. Instead, the doctors wanted to renew the ability to speak and eat.
The problem with the surgery is the fact that Isabelle had to wait for a transplant’s graft, which took her more than seven months of pain and suffering. Moreover, it was performed in France. After the transplant, surgeons were harshly criticized for choosing a transplant instead of trying to reconstruct the patient’s face first. Critics also questioned Isabelle’s consent to surgery because she was emotionally unstable and was concerned about the necessity of taking immunosuppressive drugs recommended to all transplant patients, which might have a negative influence on her health. Regardless of criticism, the primary consequence of the surgery is obtaining financial benefit from the story and returning to normal life with a new face. Both the surgeon and Isabelle were rewarded and became popular.
Keeping in mind the provisions of utilitarianism, the decision to choose transplantation is a good and right one. Of course, it was risky, but what matters is that Isabelle returned to normal life. In this case, it is impossible to judge the motives of the surgeon because he might have wanted to file his name into history. Nevertheless, Isabelle was made happy. So, the decision is ethical.
Hales, Robert E. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry, Arlington, Virginia: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2008. Print.
Munson, Ronald. Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Bioethics. Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.
Shaw, William H. Business Ethics: A Textbook with Cases. 8th ed. 2014. Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning. Print.
Slavin, Barbara. Professor Who “Did not Fear Death” Likely Saved Students. 2007. Web.
Velasquez, Manuel, Claire Andre, Thomas S.J. Shanks and Michael J. Meyer. Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics. 2014. Web.
West, Henry R. An Introduction to Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.