Utilitarianism states that it is difficult but possible to justify such cruelties as murder and human sufferings, thus it is possible of the outcome benefits millions of people. The ethical weighing and summing of probable consequences of actions are known as the calculus of utilitarian ethics. A satisfactory utilitarian justification of this case or any ethical dilemma will balance good consequences against bad consequences and come up with an appropriate decision that maximizes good consequences. From a utilitarian point of view, critics may postulate the consequences that unethical treatment might have upon other members of the community and ultimately upon the profession as a whole. Therefore professional duties are owed to and by all members of the professional community.
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Natural rights theory is connected with such concepts as a social contract and positive law. In contrast to the utilitarian account of rights, natural rights are based on “reasoning” and “self-evidence” of truth. A person can do everything he/she wants as it does not violate the right to life. A person can own wealth and other material gains he creates in case it does not violate rights for life and liberty. In contrast to utilitarian ethics, natural rights do not take into account the consequences of actions and their benefits (harm) for a person. Yet it is not enough to give assent to this notion; we professionals must act upon it. Professional people should have the opportunity to advance in the profession-based upon their professional qualifications and contributions to the firm and to the profession. Professional people should respect one another as persons–as peers in the community. Utilitarian ethics support the notion of equality of rights. People need not go to metaphysical utilitarian goals to demonstrate this. The barest knuckles kind of consequential thinking reveals it. Simply stated, the accounting profession needs women. There is intense and increasing demand for trained and intelligent people in the accountant profession. Women meet a great deal of this demand. If bright and motivated women are treated unfairly or even if they believe this to be the case, they will take their talents elsewhere (Donaldson et al, p. 32).
In terms of natural rights and social contract theory, people live in a state of nature. In this situation, natural rights are inherent and granted by the Creator. Rights rest on the fact or possibility of a distribution of pleasure or happiness (or the means thereto) that is not in accordance with the merit of the persons concerned. A duty may arise in such cases to upset or prevent such a distribution. Such a sense of tights would arise from a concern for justice. Notice that in this case, the sense of duty did not arise from any previous action or promise of the corporation or its management. Rights arise simply because an observed situation is a wrong per se. If a person recognizes such a duty, a cost may ensue in the future should the corporation create a training program, for example (Strauss, p. 54).
In sum, the main difference between utilitarian accounts of rights and natural rights is that natural rights do not pay attention to outcomes and benefits of actions while utilitarian accounts of rights take into account the consequences of actions. Utilitarians would undoubtedly argue that such action is taken to improve social good through lower costs.
- Donaldson, T., et al. Ethical Issues in Business, 7th edn, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.
- Strauss, L. Natural Right and History (Walgreen Foundation Lectures). University Of Chicago Press, 1999.