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Ethical Philosophy Review

Updated on February 21, 2012


In an assignment for an ethics class, students were asked to evaluate three different ethical decisions, each from varying points of view. The students were then to examine each of these moral dilemmas in relation to core ethical philosophies. The philosophies the students were asked to consider were Consequentialism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics. After handing in this assignment, a few days later, students were asked to review the assignment and determine if the suggested course of action based on the different philosophies would really be the ethical choice; if the most ethical, would it also be the best possible choice; if it were not the best choice, what would be; and, what would be the reasoning for believing an alternate choice is more ethical. This is the answer to such a request for review.

Ethical Scenario One

In the first scenario, a look at local politics comes into view, where opposite needs of the people come into conflict. A mayor must make the decision whether to allow a retirement community to be torn down so a shopping plaza, which would bring in much needed revenue would be erected in its place. From a Consequentialist view, we are not necessarily looking at what is ethical in this. Instead, one would be looking at only what the consequences would be. From the mayor’s standpoint, this would have to do with their support for re-election. They would need to do research, and see where their best chance at political survival would be. This certainly is not what most would consider ethical, as it examines gain or loss for the mayor more than it does anything else. It is possible that another way to consider it would be the lesser of two evils, because the current scenario would ensure that someone is going to lose, but there is not enough information provided to properly weigh these costs. On a Deonotological path, one would consider purely what rules there are to follow. In theory, the rules as written would be ethical and have been written “by the people, for the people,” but the world is not perfect, and the rules are often slanted, so this would not necessarily be ethical either. Again, someone is going to lose here. There might be a loophole that would allow everyone to benefit, but people often look at using loopholes as unethical. This student cannot advise as to why that may be. With the mayor, virtue ethics would seem to be the best way to go, and it ties into the suggestion from the first path of Consequentialism. The mayor would look at which path created the most harmonious act. The hope would be there would be some way to make all groups happy.

Ethical Scenario Two

The second scenario investigated would be where a sales manager finds a way to claim extra sales in order to gain an incentive. From the Consequentialism view, we are not given enough information. What kind of repercussions could there be, especially if this is something written into the rules? This ties directly into the Deontological view. If the rules are written that way, it would be permissible. Nonetheless, this would still indicate saying sales were made when they really were not. In either event, the ethical choice would fall back on the philosophy of Virtue Ethics. This would work in a few different ways. First, an examination of moral character. While there may be a loophole, it is still lying. Next, one would consider how money is coming from the company to pay for these sales based bonuses. It is coming from a company that believes there is more money coming in than what actually is, because the sales manager has told them there is. When the sales are taken off the books, now the company has spent extra money it doesn’t have.


Ethical Scenario Three

In the third and final scenario, the options for a college student who walks into his apartment to see his roommate in the middle of what appears to be a drug deal and is then threatened by his roommate. In Consequentialism, we might consider that Malcom do nothing, because he would get hurt if he did. However, also in Consequentialism, and a more ethical decision, would be to consider the danger Malcom would be putting his roommate and untold others in, if he did not do something to clear the drugs out of his apartment and off the street. Deontology would indicate that Malcom would need to report this issue to the authorities, and it would be ethical for the same reasons as previously mentioned. The thought from a Virtue Ethics view would be that Malcom should report something, because it is the right thing to do, and this is because of the danger drugs present to those who use them, sell them, or are just simply around or near them. In this one example, all points seem to be in agreement, that Malcom—to be ethical—would need to report what happened to the police.


The concept of trying to prove whether something is ethical or not goes back as far as thought itself. How are we to determine what the best course of action really is? Is it always what is considered “good” and/or “right?” In examining these cases, students were given the opportunity to look at issues from different philosophical viewpoints. Each of the viewpoints concerned themselves with proper ethical behavior in a different manner. This thought provoking exercise causes people to really question what is ethical, how do we know it is ethical, how do we determine it is ethical. It also brings us to consider that there may be multiple choices for proper, ethical action, or there may seemingly no proper ethical decision that can be made. As noted, having more facts can help in many cases where questions of ethics arise. In a moment where one does not have time to gather all the facts, and they must make a decision, can they then be called unethical for making the wrong decision, because they did not have all the facts?


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