I will analyse some ethical and moral theories that provide guidelines for ethical human behaviour and critically assess them with the aid of real life examples, to determine whether it is possible to have universally applicable rules that help humans to decide if a decision requires ethical/moral considerations or not. The paper would aim to prove that it is the needs of humans which may be at times materialistic and at other times spiritual, that govern their course of action.
As no two humans have similar needs and similar means to fulfil their needs, to straitjacket decisions into moral/ethical and rational is virtually impossible. Introduction The temptation to set aside ethical standards is always present, because the gains are so large for the individual who decides to work outside the rules. From The High Price of Low Ethics How Corruption Imperils American Entrepreneurship and Democracy Carl J. Schramm, PhD, JD President and CEO, The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation There is no doubt that to succeed in life today, one has to be shrewd, aggressive and practical.
We see all around us that the struggle for existence forces humans to sideline issues of right and wrong and makes them focus only on achieving the ends with little or no consideration to the means employed. Does this mean that humans have become inherently immoral and unethical? No. Humans cannot be blind to morality and ethics. According to Aristotle, humans are social animals. For them to be perfectly happy, they have to be a part of a society that is also happy (Yrjonsuuri 2004). This means that humans, who are biologically selfish, need to consider the interests of the society and be aware of the morality of their choices.
But do we understand what ethics and morals are? Ethics are not the same as feelings as some people feel good even when they do something criminal (Markkula Center for applied ethics n. d. ). Ethics are not religion, as many people are not religious, but ethics apply to all (Markkula Center for applied ethics n. d. ). Ethics are also not law as law can become ethically corrupt as some totalitarian regimes have made it (Markkula Center for applied ethics n. d. ). Ethics are not about following culturally accepted norms as cultures can sometimes become corrupt, and neither is ethics science (Marrakula Center for applied ethics n.
d. ). Then what exactly are ethics and morals? How do we know that we are being faced with an ethical and moral choice rather than an ordinary one? Telling the truth is considered morally right, but if our truth hurts someone should we tell the truth? Can humans be ethical and moral at all times? How many of us know people who would have been influenced by their morals to hide Jews from the Nazis at the expense of their lives? Would the people who preferred to save their own lives be considered immoral?
Such questions that concern the right behaviour for humans have been a subject of debate for centuries because it is believed that there is no right answer for such questions. What may feel right to one individual or organization may be considered immoral in another society. This paper would try to analyse the concept of morality and ethics, and their importance in the life of human beings, with an objective to understand whether it is possible to develop universal rules in decision making that can make it easier for humans to take decisions that are acceptable to the society and their conscious.
Discussion The word Ethics comes from the Greek word ethos which means moral character or custom. The word Morality comes from the Latin word moralis which means custom or manner (Perle n. d. ). ?Both the words deal with the customs or the manner in which people do things. Their modern meanings relate to the way people act either good or bad, or right or wrong (Perle n. d. ). So, if people often use the two words as if they have the same meaning, it should be no surprise. ?While we may often use the two terms interchangeably, morals are generally understood to be the principles of right and wrong,
whereas ethics involve an entire system of moral issues and focuses on right and wrong behaviour (Eastwood et al. 2006). Morality is an individuals perception of right and wrong which may be in disagreement with another individuals perception. Nevertheless, every individuals morality influences the values of the society. Ethics is the product of those collective moral values of all the individuals in the society (The oracle education foundation n. d). ?The distinction between ethics and morality can be demonstrated by using the analogy of a conversation.
If one imagines that ethics is a conversation that has arisen to answer the question, What should a person do? , then moralities are the voices in that conversation (St. James Ethics centre n. d. ). Morality and ethics talk about right and wrong behaviour. But what should be the standard of deciding what is right and what is wrong? Kant proposed a test for personal duty and good willing which eliminates self interest and helps decide whether an action is ethically correct (Eastwood et al. 2006).
The test requires an individual to ask himself whether he would be willing to have everyone in the world under similar circumstances behave in exactly the same manner (Eastwood et al. 2006). This is the Categorical Imperative, which states that an act can be judged right or wrong only if everyone in the world will act in the same way or come to the same decision under similar circumstances (Eastwood et al. 2006). But decision making is rarely an easy process. In our lives, we face situations where we have to take decisions to achieve some desired objective(s) with minimum negative consequences.
Decision making becomes even more complicated when our needs are in conflict with each other. Humans have broadly two categories of needs which guide their decisions, viz. deficiency needs associated with physiological needs, which are determined by life processes, like survival, reproduction, nourishment etc, and growth needs associated with psychological needs which are outside the life processes and differentiate humans from other creatures, like creativity, spontaneity, self actualization etc.
(Maslow, 1943). Schlozberg in his essay analysed that according to Arendt, our needs of life and the life process are fulfilled through ordinary decision making which is rational in nature. As the number of the ordinary decisions that need to be made in our daily lives are so large, our mind often takes them in a routine and habitual manner, through the aids of customs and habits (cited in Schlozberg n. d. ).
The way individuals will greet each other, their behaviour towards their seniors etc are examples of some of the decisions which are taken without a thought to any values that we may cherish. But, ordinary decision making while being useful in daily life, is ill fitted for moral and ethical decision making (cited in Schlozberg n. d. ). Our other set of needs that stem from outside the life processes, require us to often take heed of moral and ethical issues and negate the presence of rationality. Let us take the example of Siebel Edmonds, who worked as a FBI translator.
?Edmonds was fired from her position as a language specialist at the FBIs Washington Field Office in March, 2002, after she accused a colleague of covering up illicit activity involving foreign nationals, alleging serious acts of security breaches, cover-ups, and intentional blocking of intelligence which, she contended, presented a danger to the United States security (Wikipedia 2005). If we try to analyze her act, it can be said that her decision to report the misconduct to higher authorities at the expense of her job was not rational rather a decision governed by her moral values.
If Edmonds had placed her survival before all other needs, she would have made an ordinary rational decision, rather than an extraordinary moral decision which she eventually made. However, if we analyse Edmonds moral decision from the point of view of deontology, we may argue that her decision may have been rational! From a deontological point of view, something is moral/ethical not because of its consequences, but is moral/ethical because the motive or intent is good with no ulterior motive attached (Russo n. d. ).
So, to actually bracket Siebel Edmonds decision as a moral decision and not a rational decision, it is important to know whether her intention was to exemplify herself as a model employee and be promoted, or was she actually concerned about US security? True moral/ethical choices cannot be rational choices. It is only an individual who can decide whether his/her need falls under the realm of life process or arises out of extra-natural conditions. Understanding of this aspect will help him/her take an ordinary decision bordering on rationality or a value laden decision based on morality and ethics.
Human beings and organizations are forever being presented with opportunities in life where they have to take such decisions. We all know that the primary objective of a business organization is to increase the market value of the company. The board of directors thus are often known to resort to any means to achieve the objective which is rational for the organizations growth. Economics and morality/ethics do not mix, and we end up seeing instances of insider trading, industrial espionage etc. in the business world. But on the other hand, the organizations also have a need to be respected in the society so that people trust them.
When an organization takes a decision keeping their social responsibilities in mind, they may take decisions which are ethical and moral in the true sense. Let us take the example of the cosmetic company, The Body Shop. ?Body Shop was regarded as amongst the first firms in the world to publish a proper report on its social responsibility initiatives. In addition to social activism, internal audit programs were conducted at Body Shop for environmental protection, health and safety at work, and the monitoring of Against Animal Testing Policy ? (ICFAI Center for Management Research 2006).
All this indicates that the objective of Body Shop was to develop an organization in sync with certain moral and ethical values. However recently, Body Shop was acquired by LOreal and faced severe criticism for the same. Some analysts believed that ? LOreal did not share the principles of Body Shop, and that this acquisition had removed the biggest supporter of ethically sourced beauty care products from the market (ICFAI Center for Management Research 2006). Analyst also believed that Ms Roddick, the owner of Body Shop, ? sold out to the very organization she fought against (ICFAI Center for Management Research 2006).
Why did Body Shop allow itself to be acquired by LOreal? It may be argued that the decision of selling Body Shop to LOreal was probably a rational business decision, taken presumably because Body Shop was operating at a loss and the money that Ms. Roddick was offered by LOreal was too tempting to resist. Clearly, whatever may be the reason behind the decision, morality/ethics does not seem to be one of them! Thus it can be said that humans or at a macro level organizations, take decisions governed by their needs and the desired outcomes.
As the example of Body Shop illustrates, sometimes decisions are rational and sometimes ethical/moral. Thus, to expect that all decisions made by an individual or an organization will at all times be moral and ethical is unrealistic. So what kinds of decisions should always be ethical? And when should we decide to take decisions based on our morality? Morals come into play when an individual decides to make a personal choice, whereas ethics come into play when an individual decides to make a choice as a representative of a social group (organization, doctors, lawyers etc. ).
Nevertheless, both ethics and morals help individuals to decide between the right and wrong, and thus have similar benchmarks for deciding the kind of decisions that should be moral/ethical. According to the Utilitarian theory, any decision that has the potential of harming the maximum number of people while benefiting just a few, should be decided ethically so that maximum good and least harm is done (Andre et al. 1996). Other philosophers who follow the Rights Approach suggest that if our actions tend to violate the rights of humans, then the decision should be made on ethical grounds so that rights of humans are protected (Andre et al.
1996). The Greek Philosophers believed in a common good approach, which suggested that certain conditions in the society are shared amongst all humans, so all are decisions that are important for the welfare of everyone should be based on ethical reasoning (Andre et al. 1996). A very ancient approach to ethics is that ethical actions ought to be consistent with certain ideal virtues that provide for the full development of our humanity. The virtue ethics asks of any action, What kind of person will I become if I do this? or Is this action consistent with my acting at my best?
(Markkula Center for Applied Ethics n. d). In essence virtue approach suggests that all the decisions that we take in our life are required to be based on ethics and morality. These different approaches give us a broad outline of the type of decisions that should be considered ethical or moral. However in the real world there will always be an uncertainty on whether a decision should be made on ethical/moral grounds or not. If a decision benefits maximum people and harms only the organization, will the company take the ethical decision?
Not necessarily. It did not stop Nestle from sourcing its cocoa from the Ivory Coast where bonded labours and children were used in the plantations (Harkins et al. 2005). If we follow the rights approach, then we may not all agree to the same set of human and civil rights (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics n. d). And then there is the question of who decides what constitutes common good? Also not all the approaches answer the question, what is ethical/moral? in the same way (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics n. d).
Nevertheless, the above theories do give us an idea of the kind of decisions that should ideally be made on ethical and moral grounds. If we believe that a decision could be damaging to the community, violates the rights of others, or makes us feel guilty, it is a decision that ideally requires ethical/moral considerations. But eventually, in the real world it is the needs of the humans and organizations that would determine their choice. Conclusion ?There are no natural morals or ethics (Saxena 2003). Humans are animals who have natural survival instincts and are programmed for the sole aim of survival and proliferation (Saxena 2003).
But as Aristotle said, humans are not like other animals, they are social animals, who belong to a social setup where the principles of survival of the fittest do not always operate (Saxena 2003). Humans need to curb their survival instincts to sustain the society and the social structures (Saxena 2003). These restrictions take the form of moral and ethics (Saxena 2003). Morals and ethics are thus the social survival instincts visible in human beings, which guide him/her to live a righteous socially acceptable life (Saxena 2003).
Unfortunately, the survival instincts of humans often conflict with their ethics and morality, making it difficult for them to always follow the righteous path. Humans are thus forever performing a balancing act to survive with a clear conscience. For instance, most of the tobacco companies while promoting smoking are known to make huge donations to various philanthropic causes, presumably to appease their moral and ethical values while simultaneously pursuing their business interests! (Campaign for tobacco-free kids 2006).
As long as individuals have worldly needs and desires, they cannot be realistically expected to be moral and ethical at all times. Although there are various moral and ethical theories which suggest the right path, it is eventually an individuals needs and desired outcomes that guide the path that he chooses. No two situations are similar in this world, and only the people who have to take the decision understand their environment, their needs and the approach (ethical/moral, or rational) that will best suit them.
So although the philosophers of the world can guide moral and ethical behaviour, it is an individual himself who can realistically define them and decide what kinds of decisions should always be ethical/moral for him. Fortunately not all decisions require humans to be moral and ethical. Most of our decisions are based on customs and habits that are accepted in our society and thus do not require us to consider moral and ethical repercussions. What to eat? How to dress? How to behave with elders, are some examples of such decisions which we take mechanically on a regular basis. Alas, only one decision, What is the right thing to do?
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