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Utilitarian, Libertarian, Deontological, and Virtue Ethics Perspectives Case Study

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Updated: May 16th, 2019

An ethical dilemma is a situation that involves conflicts between moral principles in which obeying one ultimately results to transgression of the other. The utilitarian ethical perspective holds that a good course of action maximizes happiness for the parties involved, and therefore the moral worth of a certain action is determined by its outcome.

Libertarian ethical principles hold that individuals have the right to be respected and the only limit to an individual’s ability to enjoy these rights is the obligation to respect others’ basic rights.

Deontological theories are also referred to as duty-based ethics. In deontology, morality is judged through examining the nature of the actions and the will of the individuals to do the right thing. Drawing judgment from an individuals will and control of certain actions is based on the argument that the future is not controllable. Virtue ethics perspective emphasizes on the influence of character traits and moral virtues toward the resultant ethical behavior.1

For the utilitarian principle, completion of the project could give a team a satisfaction for its achievement. Melanie and other members of her team were putting in extra time to ensure that the project was completed and launched in a few weeks. Several individuals at Zagante were forced to put in extra working hours to complete their assignments related to the software code project.

Some dedicated members of the staff were forced to sleep in their cubicles because of the demands of their assignments. Melanies hard work was aimed at ensuring a successful launch of the product together with hopes for promotion to the project’s senior vice president.2

On the contrary, considering the deontological theory, Melanie and the team were working on TerraPix 2.0 map-making software meant for enhancing topographical view for the oil companies. Technology related companies in the region had suffered in the previous two years and Zagante was not exception.

Although the company survived through the hard time, it was affected financially thus forcing its management to freeze the hiring process. This meant that although the present employees were lucky to retain their jobs, they had to work extremely hard to ensure that the product was a success. In an effort to maintain their jobs, zagante staff was exploited through the requirement to put in extra time and effort at the minimal pay.3

In the process of carrying out evaluations for her team members, Melanies comparison between Tom’s and Jeremy’s profiles is a dilemma. This brings into focus the virtue ethics. Although both candidates displayed outstanding qualities, Tom’s profile was more striking professionally but Melanie leaned on Jeremy’s side because she considered him as a close friend.

On the contrary, considering libertarian principle, Melanie caught Jeremy programming a game instead of working on the running project, TerraPix. Later on, Jeremy admitted that he was working on a project he had picked from his brother-in-law’s company. His brother in laws company was pressured by the need to complete the programs before the commencement of a certain trade show.

According to Jeremy, the offer, that includes the payment was good such that he could not decline. Melanie confronted Jeremy for moonlighting, and inquested to know how he felt about it. According to Melanie, the team had their own project, which might not be as enticing but it was important for the company.4

On the utilitarian principle, Jeremy argued that he was fully engaged in the project and only took the side assignments because he felt that he could comfortably handle them off his working hours. According to Jeremy, his brother in law’s company was conversant with his tight schedule at work and were okay with it.5 Melanie was angered because he felt that the best programmer in the organization was on his exit from the company.

On the contrary, considering the deontological principles, Melanie continued to question Jeremy if he would take up the opportunity if they offered a full time position and whether he was happy in his current job. Jeremy took up the side job to have fun, break the monotony of doing the same thing day in day out, and he was interested in gaming from childhood.

In addition, he was learning new techniques which could be helpful to Zagante in the future. For example, he said that he was learning to use MAX 4 modelling tool, which at some point zagante had considered checking it out.6

According to Simons, straightforward ethical decisions are meant for enhancing both short-term and long-term benefits of the growth of the business.7

Ethics are aimed at protecting and maintaining a good business and individual’s reputation. For example values like honesty, conscientiousness, and integrity create a connection between ethical principles and the expected business activities. Jeremy’s need for extra income to support his family brings in the deontological principle. Melanie demanded to know the precise reason as to why Jeremy decided to take up the extra work.

Was it because working at Zagante had become monotonous or for the need of the money. Jeremy made it clear that he was not sacrificing to be away from his family , especially the newborn for fun, but it was because life was becoming expensive day in day out. In addition the fact that his wife was not going to work for some time meant that he had to provide for the entire household solely.

In the interest of the company and Jeremy (utilitarian principle), Melanie requested Jeremy to focus on terrapix because they expected his entire devotion to enhance successful launching of the project. Melanie promised to keep the secret of Jeremys moonlighting so far as Jeremy would not do anything that would jeopardize the success of the project and his reputation.8

Appropriate ethical behavior acts as a guideline to what may be considered in a business organization as the right course of action. According to American Psychiatric Association, decisions made for proper business management are never ethical even in situations in which they seem to adhere to the required ethical principles.9 Ethical decisions are considered to be right when they in conflict with important business decisions.

The awareness of the existing conflict justifies the decision. In the process of safeguarding the interest of the company, deontological principle , Melanie carried out research in an effort to understand the consequences of moonlighting. Melanie found out about a case involving a supervisor from the city water department.

The supervisor operated an irrigation business besides his job and had used his employer’s resources to carry out his personal work. Melanie related this to Jeremy’s case whereby he was using Zagantes computers to carry out his personal tasks. In another case, a teacher moonlighted as a stripper in which although she enjoyed doing it, it was not beneficial to her toward her growth managerially. Jeremys case still bothered her.

This is because he moonlighted for a company which was not a competitor meaning that he had little to gain from the side job and he was using Zagantes resources (computer). But onto her fears, Melanie was not ready to fire Jeremy because the company could not afford to lose such a talent. Melanie considered that moonlighting could not earn Jeremy a promotion and after his search, there was no other case of an individual who had been promoted for moonlighting.10

In situations where an organization does not regulate a certain behavior, its activities can be regulated by external policies. For the virtue ethics, Melanie further inquested from the company’s human resource director, Jill Darby, if there were any policies on employees moonlighting. Melanie lied that there was no one involved in moonlighting, but she was only concerned because the issue came up with her team. Jill confirmed that the company did not have any policies.

However, according to Jill, the state has stipulated clear rules about it, in addition to the vacuum created by the incomplete agreement signed when one is hired. In business organizations, there should be a coincidence between the quest for personal interests and ethical behavior.11 Covering up of behavior is usually harmful to the business in the long run.

When Jill asked whether the company was facing a potential problem, Melanie covered up for Jeremy and lied that her team was a source of solutions and not problems. Melanie explained that her concern was fueled by frustration of her team members because of bare minimal pay rises in the entire year.

Melanie tried to explain that although employees understand the financial situation of the company, they could take up side jobs to meet their financial needs. To solve the employees financial strains, Jill referred Melanie to Aaron who could offer low interest rate loans to employees who were in a fix.12

Virtue Ethics Perspective

The ethical dilemma presented by the case study can be solved using the virtue ethics principles. A behavior which is detrimental to the business in the short term but enhances growth of the business in the long term should be encouraged. According to Grace and Cohen, the ideas acquired from such practices can be used in redefining the business.13 Changing of the new ideas into a profession enables the business to benefit from the inventions.

As Melanie thought about Jeremy, she gathered that he was faithful to the company, he had worked there for five years, earned promotions and importantly enjoyed working for the company. She informed David and Marc that Frank Lloyd was fired for moonlighting.

According to David, that was a bad managerial decision that most probably his boss regretted for a long time. Melanie said that she was not going to fire Jeremy because moonlighting was kind of normal to programmers. David supported her idea by explaining that when he worked at way bridge associates, the architects had side businesses of designing houses that paid less. In these circumstances, virtue ethics principle allows Jeremy to carry out the side business as far as it does not affect his performance in the project.

Melanie asked whether these side businesses affected their jobs and David said that it had no effect because it was expected. In addition, moonlighting for the architects gave the firm a reason to pay the architects less than their worth. However, side jobs enabled the architects to learn new ideas and bring them into the project.14

In conclusion, Melanie called jeremy in her office and explained to him that the company could give low interest loans and thus he would not be required to take up side jobs. Jeremy declined the offer and Melanie was upset because the side job was not beneficial to the project. In addition, she was afraid of the implications of Jeremy’s moonlighting to the rest of the team. Jeremy did not care about the effect of his actions to the rest of the team.15

He considered them as grown ups who were obligated to perform their duties. In addition, Jeremy considered that so long as he performed his duties to meet the project’s expectations, it was not important to the team and the management on what he did with time out of the office.

Melanie was agitated by this statement and realized that it was time for her and the organization to fire Jeremy. In trying to offer Jeremy a solution to his financial constraints, Melanie did not consider other interests Jeremy derived from taking the side job and this made them to fall apart.16

Value Ethics

Value Ethics Graph.

Bibliography

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Pub. 1994.

Drumwright, Minette, and Murphy, Patrick. “How Advertising Practitioners View Ethics: Moral Muteness, Moral Myopia, and Moral Imagination.” Journal of Advertising, 33 (2004): 7-24.

Grace, Damian and Cohen, Stephen. Business Ethics: Australian Problems and Cases. 2 Ed. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Hinman, Lawrence. Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1994.

Rachels, James. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.

Robinson, Mary 2000, Business and Human Rights: A Progress Report. PDF File. 8 August 2012.

Sandel, Michael. “The Case Against Perfection.” The Atlantic Monthly (April 2004): 1-11.

Savulescu, J et al. “Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 38 (2004): 666-670.

Simons, Paul. Be Interested in the People You Serve and Your Life Will Be Happy”, Fourth Annual Lecture. Sydney: St. James Ethics Centre. 1994.

Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1993.

Footnotes

1 Savulescu, J. et al. “Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 38 (2004): p. 669.

2 Savulescu, J et al. “Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 38 (2004): 669.

3 James, Rachels. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993. p. 226.

4 Minette, Drumwright, and Murphy, Patrick. “How Advertising Practitioners View Ethics: Moral Muteness, Moral Myopia, and Moral Imagination.” Journal of Advertising, 33 (2004): 7-24.

5 Robinson, Mary 2000, Business and Human Rights: A Progress Report. PDF File. 8 August 2012. <>

6 Minette, Drumwright, and Murphy, Patrick. “How Advertising Practitioners View Ethics: Moral Muteness, Moral Myopia, and Moral Imagination.” Journal of Advertising, 33 (2004): 7-24.

7 Simons, Paul. Be Interested in the People You Serve and Your Life Will Be Happy”, Fourth Annual Lecture. Sydney: St. James Ethics Centre. 1994. p.16.

8 Lawrence, Hinman. Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1994.

9 James, Rachels. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993. p.56

10 Michael, Sandel. “The Case Against Perfection.” The Atlantic Monthly (April 2004): 1-11.

11 Lawrence, Hinman. Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1994.p. 106.

12 Michael, Sandel. “The Case Against Perfection.” The Atlantic Monthly (April 2004): 1-11.

13 Damian, Grace, and Stephen, Cohen. Business Ethics: Australian Problems and Cases. 2 Ed. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998. p.2

14 Hinman, Lawrence. Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1994. P.211.

15 Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1993. p.183.

16 Lawrence, Hinman. Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1994. p. 304

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