Various problems can be regarded with the use of core principles of main ethical theories, such as utilitarianism, universal ethics, the Golden Rule, and virtue ethics. Suggesting beneficial and negative ways of solving cases, the above-mentioned theories reflect various viewpoints on the surrounding world.
Experts argue that the development and implementation of ethical principles to cultures, faiths, and professions would contribute to a vivid and wide dialogue among them. In fact, philosophical principles are instruments for decision-making. Each everyday situation can be regarded as a dilemma that requires certain ethical frameworks for successful solving. Basic philosophical approaches are different in their nature and strongly oppose each other. Nevertheless, considering their core ideas is necessary for developing wise decisions (Colero).
The typical situation of possible frameworks of sharing confidential information belongs to this category. An individual works for some company. He has access to the information about further business plans of that company. The above-mentioned employee knows that the company management arranges to build a set of entertainment stores in the district, where his sister lives. These activities would lead to the devaluation of the local property. The dilemma is if sharing the inner company information is acceptable from viewpoints different from philosophical approaches.
Application of Philosophical Theories
Under the above-mentioned circumstances, an individual’s actions can be regarded by basic ethical approaches, such as utilitarianism, universal ethics, the Golden Rule, and virtue ethics.
Utilitarianism is a philosophical approach that “emphasizes not rules but results” (Mayer, Warner, Siedel, & Lieberman, 2013, p. 5). John Stuart Mill, famous for his works “On Liberty” and “Utilitarianism”, and Jeremy Bentham are the founders of this viewpoint. The result of an action or a set of actions is defined and evaluated considering the sum of received benefits for the majority of stakeholders. Utilitarianism is a model for the search for the greatest benefit for all the surrounding people. According to Bentham, the final decision should be made after proper regarding all the variants and evaluating the total advantages and drawbacks of the issue.
As a result, the most favorable action is to be chosen. Therefore, “the utilitarian principle holds that an action is right, if and only if the sum of utilities produced by that action is greater than the sum of utilities from any other possible act”(Mayer et al., 2013, p. 31). Utilitarianism is widely implemented in US legislation and commerce. In fact, utilitarianism is involved in “cost-benefit analysis in administrative and regulatory rules and calculations, environmental impact studies, the majority vote, product comparisons for consumer information, marketing studies, tax laws, and strategic planning” (Mayer et al., 2013, p. 31).
The utility is the main component of Utilitarianism. According to John Stuart Mill, the utility is “the greatest happiness principle” (Mill, 2008, p. 5). The utility may be explained in various ways. Nevertheless, the core meaning is pleasure, welfare, and the absence of suffering. Happiness is the scale for calculating utility.
There are several tendencies in Utilitarianism. Nevertheless, the whole idea of the above-mentioned philosophical approach is that any activity or rule cannot be good or bad in its nature. For example, the acts of stealing or the obligation to keep promises are not good or bad in the interpretation of Utilitarianism. In fact, only results and consequences can matter in appreciating issues. Utilitarianism uses morality as a tool for achieving specific purposes (Moreland, 2009).
Many philosophers do not consider Utilitarianism to be a moral approach because it may approve immoral activities and things, claiming that they are for the overall welfare. For example, slavery or punishment of innocent individuals can be considered appropriate, according to Utilitarianism. Moreover, critics of Utilitarianism claim that the above-mentioned philosophical approach automatically rejects any rules making them meaningless.
Deontology (Universal Ethics)
The ideas of Deontology or Universal Ethics are presented in the works of Immanuel Kant who proclaimed that “a moral intent and following the right rules ...a better path to ethical conduct than achieving the right results” (Mayer et al., 2013, p. 32). Kant regarded duties in his philosophy. He argued that all people were equal and they had universal duties. In fact, the main idea of universalizing is equality, despite differences in physical features, social and economic level, sex, nationality, age, and other peculiarities. Therefore, people are equal before the law, as human beings are equal before God. The major categories of Universal Ethics are consistency and reversibility (Mayer et al., 2013, p. 31).
Universal Ethics helps to build successful dialogue between individuals, representatives of different nations, and cultures. This philosophical approach requires understanding, appreciating, and considering the interests of all the groups. Universal Ethics is not imposing on people's opinions of other individuals. It is the discovery of the Golden Mean to cope with problems.
The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule, known from the Bible, is the way of a person’s behavior when an individual behaves towards other people, as he or she wants these people to behave towards him or her (Mayer et al., 2013, p. 32).
Virtue ethics is one of the main philosophical trends. It can be regarded as the approach that “emphasizes the virtues or moral character” (Hursthouse, 2012). Thinkers focus on three key concepts of virtue ethics. They are virtue, practical wisdom, and eudaimonia (Hursthouse, 2012).
The original ideas of virtue ethics were advocated by Aristotle, who distinguished certain ethical features of an individual’s character. Rejecting wealth and fame, the ancient philosopher named fourteen values leading an individual to the highest goal, such as happiness. Later, Michael Josephson, a well-known American ethicist, developed Aristotle’s ideas, crossing some old-fashioned and odd values. Josephson stated that the core ethical values could be applied both to individual and corporate decisions. These virtue values are:
- Citizenship (Mayer et al., 2013, p. 34).
Trustworthiness means being completely honest and sincere in keeping promises. Respect means forming an opinion about people, considering their merits. Responsibility is the third virtue that requires consideration of consequences on an individual himself or herself and the other people. Fairness refers to treating all people fairly, without letting personal feelings influence key decisions. Caring means treating others the way a person wants to be treated himself or herself. This virtue coincides with the Golden Rule. The final core virtue is citizenship. It can be explained as being law-abiding (Mayer, 2013, p. 37). Individuals would lose virtues in case of lacking moral or practical wisdom.
The idea of eudaimonia takes roots in ancient Greek philosophy. This term means ‘happiness’, ‘flourishing’, and ‘well-being’. Human beings are the only creatures who can enjoy eudaimonia. Plants and animals do not possess the above-mentioned trait. Eudaimonia requires living with a certain range of virtues. According to virtue thinkers, individuals cannot enjoy eudaimonia if they choose the wrong way of starving wealth and physical pleasure. Philosophers claim that human life has sense if people are eudaimonia. Virtues provide this state.
Nevertheless, some researchers objected to certain issues of virtue ethics. The first key objection is grounded on the wrong understanding of the core of the virtue philosophy. Some researchers accept only slogans that appreciate ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. Therefore, they saw solving of dilemma in understanding the requirements to being an ideal person, neglecting an individual’s actions. They note that several virtues may oppose each other in everyday situations. Therefore, this is the weakness of the virtue philosophy. At last, many objections appear caused by wrong connecting of virtues to the great number of various cultures. Nevertheless, virtues stand apart from any culture (Hursthouse, 2012).
An individual who has access to the inner information stands before a dilemma: to tell his sister about his company plans and, as a result, to betray the organization, or to keep the secret and betray his relative who would lose big money. Regarding the situation of possible frameworks of sharing confidential information, one can apply the main ethical theories.
Utilitarianism puts the accent on the result, ignoring rules. In the above-mentioned case, the first thing for a manager to do is to determine and evaluate the sum of total utilities.
Following the Universal Ethics principles, the principle of precedent is involved: if the manager can disclose confidential information to his sister, then all the staff of the company can air confidential details to their relatives.
The Golden Rule is hard to apply in this situation because there is more than one stakeholder in it. Opposed interests are difficult to be satisfied.
Virtue Ethics can be implemented in this case. It requires satisfying both personal and organizational interests, considering core values. According to the first core virtue, the manager has to be trustworthy towards both his sister and his administration. Telling the whole truth about the company’s plans, he would break his promise not to disclose confidential information. The second value, respect, means respecting both his sister and the company’s interests. The manager may apply this value in his making a decision, giving his sister advice to sell her property without disclosing confidential information.
The third core value means that the manager is to be responsible for the consequences of his actions. Excess information may harm several stakeholders, such as the company business, its employees who might lose their job, and the manager himself. According to the fourth virtue value, the manager has to be fair and treat his close relative and administration’s interests equally.
Regarding various situations, the main ideas of Utilitarianism, Universal Ethics, the Golden Rule, and Virtue Ethics can be implemented. Nevertheless, Utilitarianism and Universal Ethics seem to be more preferable. The core question in utilitarian philosophy is the following: which action among numerous options is the most beneficial for the community. According to it, the manager is forbidden to air commercial information to any person, because the results of this action can lead to extremely negative consequences, crossing the good purpose.
According to Universal Ethics, the manager should follow moral rules and help his sister. This approach proves to be diametrically opposite to the philosophy of utilitarianism. In fact, the manager is expected to find such a solution that would meet both utilitarian and universal requirements. Perhaps, he could tell his sister that the issue is in the field of his professional activity and he has not the right to disclose any details concerning this project. Acting in such a way, the manager would not violate his employer’s interests and harm his or her business. Utilitarian principles do not forbid the manager to give his sister advice to sell the land as soon as possible. The manager’s relative has already had intentions to sell it. The manager can accelerate the process, inventing any plausible reason. Therefore, he would follow major ethical principles of both utilitarianism and universal ethics and solve the problem.
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