Many people from all walks of life have trouble making decisions in their everyday lives, especially on tough or critical situations that may even involve life and death considerations. To address this issue, there are four ethical models and four ethical principles developed as guidance in making decisions in an ethical way. One of the four ethical models is the Utilitarianism. This model is based on the principle that the best decision is the one that gives benefits to most or causes harm to least number of people, regardless of its implications to other ethical models like deontology (duties and obligations), virtues or rights.
According to Catherine Rainbow, the utilitarian ethical theory is founded on the ability to predict the consequences of an action. To a utilitarian, the choice that yields the greatest benefit to the most people is the choice that is ethically correct. One benefit of this ethical theory is that the utilitarian can compare similar predicted solutions and use a point system to determine which choice is more beneficial for more people.
This point system provides a logical and rationale argument for each decision and allows a person to use it on a case-by-case context (Rainbow).
In Utilitarianism Ethics developed by Manuel Velasquez, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, S.J., and Michael J. Meyer, the example used to illustrate this theory was the case of Oliver North when he was asked to explain why he lied to congressional committees regarding his role in the Iran-Contra affair, where he replied, “Lying does not come easily to me. But we all had to weigh in the balance the difference between lies and lives.” North’s method of justifying his acts of deception is a form of moral reasoning that is called “utilitarianism.” Stripped down to its essentials, utilitarianism is a moral principle that holds that the morally right course of action in any situation is the one that produces the greatest balance of benefits over harms for everyone affected. So long as a course of action produces maximum benefits for everyone, utilitarianism does not care whether the benefits are produced by lies, manipulation, or coercion (Manuel Velasquez, 1989).
Utilitarianism ethics has two types. One is act utilitarianism and the other is rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism conforms to the description of utilitarianism mentioned above while rule utilitarianism considers also the adherence to the law and fairness of the decision. A rule utilitarian seeks to benefit the most people but through the fairest and most just means available. Therefore, added benefits of rule utilitarianism are that it values justice and includes beneficence at the same time (Rainbow). However, utilitarianism (both act and rule) has numerous flaws like in all other theories. First, there is uncertainty as to the outcome which is the basis of the decision. Outcomes maybe inferred from life experiences or from logical evaluations but no one can be certain of the actual outcome in the future. Wrong prediction of the outcomes resulting to less benefit or more harm, makes the utilitarian decision as unethical. Second, predicted outcomes of different nature like money (tangible) against happiness (intangible) are not really comparable, making a quantified advantage of the other is debatable. Last but not the least, there is no hero or supererogation in utilitarianism. This model does not recognize any selfless act as heroism. In this theory, everyone has a duty or obligation to behave or to do self-sacrifice for the benefit of most of the people in the society (Rainbow). Part 2: Ethical Dilemma and Solution
Early this morning, my wife told me that she was so excited to have our rare dinner date in a fancy hotel tonight, which I promised to her last week as my birthday treat. When I was in the school today, I received a call from a close friend and he told me that he assembled my two other long-time friends to have boys’ night out tonight, which is the same time I supposed to have dinner with my wife. I told him I promised a dinner date with my wife and she will be hurt so bad if I chose my friends over her.
He told me that it’s difficult to assemble our friends due to hectic schedules and all wanted a for-the-boys celebration. He added that we will also have a send off party at the same time for our friend who is going to study in United States. I asked if we can just combine my date and our party but my friend insisted they have been waiting for this exclusive boy’s party. I told him that this is a tough situation that I need to think over. He told me that he needs to get my confirmation in two hours or they would not go for celebration anymore and that they will feel not important to me. So, my dilemma is if I would rather go with my wife and hurt my friends or go with my friends and hurt my wife.
Based on Utilitarian ethical model, I will go with my friends. Weighing the outcome of each option, I would hurt my three friends if I go with my wife who will be happy but if I do otherwise, three people who are my friends will be happy and only one would be hurt, which is my wife. According to Utilitarian model, I should choose a decision where I can benefit the most or hurt the least number of people. In addition to this, I will just make an alibi to my wife that there is an emergency situation at my friend’s place that I am the only one who is available to help. This will alleviate the disappointment of my wife and this is in line with the Act Utilitarianism which allows any actions, be it a lie, a manipulation or coercion that will benefit most of the people or harm the least. To sum up, my decision of going with my friends and a lie to my wife would make my three friends happy and my wife would be less hurt. It is a perfectly utilitarian decision. Part 3: Reflection
My solution to my dilemma was no longer a surprise to me as I have learned about it in the school and through further readings. However, I was surprised when I first learned of the Utilitarian ethical model as a basis for a decision on tough situations. I did not expect that it would be ethical to lie, manipulate and/or coerce for the good of the many.
Going back to my decision, my friends will see it as more beneficial for them and will cause least harm to one. Also, my wife will also consider my decision of helping a friend in an emergency situation as beneficial and morally upright. In terms of autonomy, I have less autonomy because my friends do not want to combine the part, so are my friends because of one’s scheduled departure. On the other hand, there will be no autonomy and no justice to my wife because I gave her no option but only to cancel our date and that I deprived her of the truth that I will be partying with my friends.
Considering my personal values, the ethical solution to my dilemma is not the one I will uphold. For me, it is not justified to break my promise and to lie to be able to party, which will make my friends happy. I find this to be as selfish and immoral. In my opinion, utilitarian ethical model should consider the moral uprightness of the means and intended outcome, in terms of equality, fairness and justice in universal sense or based on moral principles acceptable to the majority like those prescribed by the United Nations for political issues. Works Cited
Manuel Velasquez, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, S.J., and Michael J. Meyer. “Utilitarianism Ethics.” Issues in Ethics V2 N1 (Winter 1989) (1989). Rainbow, Catherine. “Principles and Theories.” 2002. Davidson College. .
Cite this A Dilemma and My Solution Based On Utilitarianism Ethical Model
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