Key utilitarian ethical problems confronting the Transistor Company
Utilitarianism is an ethical model of reasoning which emphasizes on the maximization of good and happiness and the minimization of the reverse of happiness and good. The transistor company is confronted with the ethical issue of choosing to stop the supply of transistors to the heart pacemakers company and or supplying the transistors and risking the lives of patients.
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The company’s board of directors is divided on the issue of whether they should continue supplying transistors to the company, which makes heart pacemakers even with the evidence of deaths occurring as a result of the transistors which are put in the heart pacemakers. The board members feel that they have the obligation of preventing those deaths by stopping the supply of the transistors, given that theirs is the only company that is still in the business of making the transistors.
The company is also confronted with the issue of breaching the contract is entered into with the company, which makes the heart pacemakers. If it stops supplying the transistors, it will go against the business ethics of remaining committed and trustworthy to its stakeholders. This would also push the company, which makes the heart pacemakers out of business, which would affect not only the company but also those patients who survive by the use of the heart pacemakers.
The advice of Jeremy Bentham to the Transistor Company
One of the key proponents of utilitarianism is Jeremy Bentham, who belongs to the 19th-century philosophy. According to him, the principles of human interactions are based on the overall good. In this sense, therefore, good is looked from an objective sense in that what is good is seen as what produces ‘good’ for the maximum number of people (Scarre, 1996).
Utilitarianism can be explained using the principle of ‘the end justifies the means,’ meaning if the end of a process or action is good, then the means of arriving at that end are also good and justifiable (Schofield, 2006).
According to the model, therefore, for an action to be considered as ethically or morally correct, it should have an outcome, which benefits the maximum number of people. What this means is that people should focus on the end of a process but not the means of arriving at that end (Julia, 2009).
It is for this reason that utilitarianism is considered a consequentialist theory in that it focuses on the consequences of an action. An action may, therefore, be both correct and incorrect or moral and immoral at the same time. Take the example of killing, which is considered by many as immoral as well as illegal. But from a utilitarian point of view, the killing of one person to save the lives of a hundred people may be justified in that the killing of that person has an intrinsic value, that is, the saving of lives of a hundred people (Raphael, 1969).
In the case of the transistor company, Jeremy Bentham would have advised the company not to stop the supply of the transistors to the heart pacemakers company. One of the reasons is that first of all, it is not the transistors per se, which caused the deaths, but the deaths were largely caused by the use of very week specs to test the transistors. The company ought not to have stopped the supply because Bentham would have argued that doing so would put the lives of many people in danger, which would be unethical on the part of the transistor company. The focus here is on the general good, not on a few isolated cases of failure of the heart pacemakers. Since the number of deaths does not outweigh the lives saved by the use of the heart pacemakers, then the company should continue with the supply.
Bentham was of the view that the focus of our actions was to maximize happiness and minimize pain. According to him, therefore, the best actions were those who maximized happiness for as many people as possible while minimizing the pain suffered by the few who were affected. Since the problem was not more to do with the transistors but to do with the specs used to test them; Bentham would have advised the heart pacemakers company to invest heavily in making or purchasing of very strong specs to minimize instances of using faulty transistors in the heart pacemakers.
The Utility Test Step A to D
Step A: introduction of the test
The test is introduced in the case by posing the question of whether the actions of the transistor company were maximizing well while minimizing pain or harm for those who were affected by the actions. In introducing the test, the guiding principle is the consequences of the action of stopping or not stopping the supply of the transistors. This is the basis for determining whether the action was right or wrong. We should attempt to qualify the outcome based on whether it produces happiness or pain and by use of other indicators such as money and the preferences of those involved (Hamilton, 2012).
If the outcome is qualified based on preferences, then the action of supplying the transistors to the heart pacemakers company was good because the patients preferred the use of the heart pacemakers to save their lives. They had also paid for the same, and therefore stopping the supply would have gone against their preferences.
Step B: Utility as a valid way to decide right and wrong
The utility is indeed a valid criterion to qualify actions as right or wrong. This is so because every one of us wants to be happy at all times and to avoid unhappiness at all times (Hamilton, 2012). Also, everyone is equal just like the other, and therefore, what is ethical to one person should be ethical to all other people. A good outcome is therefore construed as that which results in maximum happiness and minimal unhappiness.
Step C: Application of the test
Step 1: Alternative actions and stakeholders to be affected
The first alternative is for the heart pacemakers company to invest more in the procurement of very strong specs for testing the transistors. The stakeholders affected are the company and the patients.
The second alternative is to stop the supply of the transistors to the heart pacemakers company. This would affect the company, which makes the transistors.
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The third alternative is for the transistor company to ignore the deaths and move on with the supply of the transistors as usual. Those affected by this alternative would be the patients who use heart pacemakers.
The fourth option is for the transistor company to invest in more research to produce transistors that are not capable of malfunctioning during their use. The company, which makes the transistors, would be affected as well as the company which makes the heart pacemakers.
Step 2: Benefits and costs of the above alternatives to those affected
The benefit of the first alternative is that the transistors would not malfunction during their use because they would be thoroughly tested using very strong specs to detect those which are faulty. The other benefit would go to the patients because they would no longer die as a result of the failure of the heart pacemakers. The costs include increased cost of production on the part of the heart pacemakers company and increased medical costs on the part of the patients.
The benefits of the second alternative are that the transistor company would avoid any lawsuit resulting from the transistor supply deal. The costs are that it would lose the profits which it gets from the supply of the transistors. On the part of the patients, they would die because the heart pacemakers cannot be made without the transistors.
The benefits of the third alternative are that patients would not die because the transistors would be available. The costs would be on the part of the heart pacemakers company because it would invest a lot of resources in making high-quality specs.
The benefits of the fourth alternative are that the patients would not die due to the failure of the heart pacemakers because the manufacturers would have made transistors of high quality. The cost for the alternative is the increase in the cost of production on the part of the company and increased medical costs on the part of the patients.
Step 3: The action with the greatest benefits over costs
According to utilitarianism, for an action to be considered as morally correct, it must have benefits that outweigh the costs by the biggest margin possible (Hruschka, 1991). In the case presented, the most expensive cost is death resulting from the failure of the heart pacemakers due to faulty transistors. The action with the least costs as compared to the costs is the investment by the two companies to ensure that the heart pacemakers do not malfunction.
Step 4: If the action were to become a policy
The selection of the actions should be very careful because such an action once selected is deemed to be a universal policy in certain situations. The investment by the two companies in the improvement of the heart pacemakers has no problem if it becomes policy for all similar situations. Though a policy guideline, all companies which procure gadgets for saving the lives of people should be compelled to produce high-quality products.
Step D: Conclusion
The action of the production of high-quality gadgets and equipment for the health care sector has been selected in the two stages above. This, therefore, becomes an ethical action in the field of health care because it produces the maximum good and minimal harm for all the stakeholders in the health care sector now and in the future.
The Rights Test
Step A: Introduction to the test
This is guided by the question of whether a course of action is respecting human rights or not. Every human being is endowed with certain inalienable rights and entitlements. These rights and entitlements exist as shared norms of human moralities and natural rights. The rights and entitlements underscore the importance of treating all human beings with dignity, fairness, and equality, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds. These rights and entitlements are supported by strong reasons and legal basis at national and international levels.
Step B: Validity of the criterion of the right
The rights criterion is a valid one in qualifying actions as right or wrong. Rights have to do with doing justice to everyone irrespective of his or her extrinsic value. The criterion is based on the intrinsic value of life and social justice. Every human being is entitled to all good things and just deeds. No one qualifies more than the other because we are all the same. The criterion of rights is also based on the reasoning that rights should be respected and protected from any actions which are of benefit to society at large. In other words, actions should be considered to ensure they do not infringe on people’s rights even if the actions are of benefit to the whole society (Schneewind, 1977).
Step C: Application of the test
Step 1: The right being violated
In the case of the transistor company, the right being violated is the right to health care which falls under the category of welfare rights.
Step 2: Why the right to health care deserves the status of a right
It deserves this status because it is an essential component of a person’s well being. The malfunctioning of the heart pacemakers due to faulty transistors leads to loss of life by patients, which denies them the right to life even though they pay for the same.
Step 3: Whether the right to health care conflicts with other rights
This right seems to conflict with the right to affordable health care. When the companies invest more in the heart pacemakers, this will lead to an increase in the cost of health care, making it unaffordable to many, especially the poor and those whose governments do not pay for health care insurance to the citizens. However, in my view, the right to health care is more important than the right to affordable health care. We cannot, therefore, dismiss the use of the heart pacemakers simply on the grounds of costs because doing so would lead to more unhappiness than happiness.
Step D: Conclusion
The rights principle applies in this case in that it brings out the need to protect health care rights even if it means incurring more costs by investing in health care infrastructure.
Comparison of the two tests
Both tests focus on the result or outcome of an action. They both focus on upholding and protecting the overall good for everyone. They also use the same procedure that is an introduction, validation, application, and conclusion. They differ in that while the utility test focuses on protecting all the stakeholders, the rights test focuses on protecting the right of one stakeholder, that is, the patient’s right to health care. The utility test is more informative than the rights test because it offers several options for maximizing the good of all the stakeholders. In contrast, the rights test only focuses on pursuing the rights of a single stakeholder.
Hamilton, J.B. (2012). Utility test- Best outcomes, how to use the best outcomes or utility test. Web.
Hruschka, J. (1991). “The Greatest Happiness Principle and Other Early German Anticipations of Utilitarian Theory,” Utilitas, 3: 165-77.
Julia,D. (2009). The History of Utilitarianism. Web.
Scarre, G. (1996). Utilitarianism. New York, NY: Routledge.
Schneewind, J. B. (1977). Sidgwick’s Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Schofield, P. (2006). Utility and Democracy: the Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Raphael, D. D. (1969). British Moralists. London: Oxford, Clarendon Press.