Ethics is defined as the comprehension of what is right and what is wrong within the moral context and different cultures and communities have a different perception of right and wrong depending on their individual regulations, religious beliefs, as well as cultural practices. Regardless of the setting, ethics are usually formulated to ensure that individuals choose right over wrong when faced with different decisions. The business world has various codes of ethics that have been written to guide the professionals of different fields. Nevertheless, despite the existence of these codes, the ethical dilemmas are more often than not difficult to resolve. Utilitarianism, egoism, deontology, virtue ethics, and care ethics are some of the ethical theories that philosophy has cited in resolving ethical dilemmas. Such theories are designed with intention of preventing ethical violations which may pave way for the exploitation of those who are less powerful within the business world. Quotes from famous philosophers in the world are evidence and implications of the existence of such exploitation as rooted in history. Some of these quotes include‘Charity is no substitute for justice withheld’ by St. Augustine and ‘The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men’ by Plato. This paper gives an in-depth analysis of the connection between different ethical aspects.
The quote ‘Charity is no substitute for justice withheld’ by St. Augustine has raised a debate with regards to charity versus justice. Both charity and justice are very noble social aspects because they reflect the will and desire to help another individual. Charity, for instance, is the act of giving to the less fortunate in the society with the intention of improving their lives. On the other hand, justice entails enforcing fair conducts and distributing these equally to make sure that every person has a chance to lead a better life. St. Augustine asserts that the role of these two important social aspects differs and as such it is impossible for charity to substitute the need for justice. This essentially gives justice an upper hand because it has longer lasting and global impacts as compared to charity. For instance, since charity is a one-time act, it cannot pull many people out of poverty. Furthermore, charity also tends to degrade its recipient while on the other hand, the giver assumes superiority because of his financial ability to offer the favors. On the other hand, fair distribution of resources can make sure that each individual has a constant and sustainable source of livelihood. This can therefore help people to have control over their lives and gain their individuality and independence, (Hoffenberg 71).
When Plato stated that ‘The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men’ he was reflecting on the need for citizens to participate in public affairs. This quote reveals Plato’s acknowledgement of the existence of good men in the society and these are men that possess excellent leadership skills and genuinely concerned about the welfare of the citizens. Nevertheless, such men tend to be indifferent and nonchalant about public affairs hence giving evil men an upper hand in making decisions with regard to how public affairs are run. This is particularly evident in cases where voters fail to turn up in good numbers to cast their votes and elect the best candidates into power. The responsibility of bad leadership therefore lies on the shoulders of the good people who fail to participate in choosing their own leaders (Martinson 93).
Despite having been constructed several decades ago, both quotes are still relevant today. For instance, the fact that the country is yet to achieve a hundred percent value during elections shows that voter turnout is still a major concern. However, there has been an improvement on the number of individuals participating in the process of making decisions in the country and this can be mainly attributed to democracy, civic education, as well as the availability of more communication channels. On the contrary, the quote by St. Augustine’s quote remains relevant today within the same context as it was 1500 years ago. This is mainly due to the existence of several charity organizations despite the increasing inequalities that are still evident in the economic world. One of the key evidences of this quote’s relevance is stemmed in the fact that underdeveloped countries continue to receive aid from the developed countries even in this century. Further, this charity is often used to substitute justice by the developed countries and their main aim is to actually gain control over the receiving countries (Wytsma 82).
An ethical dilemma is the type of situation that demands the choice between two opposite options by an individual and it is usually tough because neither of the options is morally acceptable. When faced with such conflict in decision-making, it is necessary to exercise ethical standards to resolve amicably. In most cases, doing the right thing ethically may cause harm and this demands that one selects the option that has a more favorable outcome for the highest number of people affected by the situation when faced with an ethical dilemma (Garber 1). An example is given of a train driver who is faced with the ethical dilemma of either choosing to save the life of his son or the lives of the hundreds of passenger on board. Even though the driver is obliged to save his son as a father, it is also his duty to save the lives of his passengers as a professional. As such, despite the fact that it will have negative consequences later in his life, such a father should run over his son is the best choice because it results in the optimal good for the society as a whole.
Ethical dilemmas are very common in the business world and this is attributed to the need by professionals to make decisions that require critical thinking in order to optimize societal, organizational, and personal good.For such professionals to strike a balance among these differing obligations, they are often compelled to sacrifice some of their values (Brenkert and Tom 161).
The case of Wal-Mart is a good example of a real-life ethical dilemma. As one of the leading retail stores in America, Wal-Mart is renowned for making millions of profits from its dealings and it mainly uses charity drives to give back to the community the extra profits it makes. By doing this, Wal-Mart is able to meet its social responsibility through making the lives of the less privileged much better and doing kind deeds. Nevertheless, Walmart does this at the expense of its employees, most of whom are paid peanuts for salaries and even live below the poverty line. This situation is an example whereby the more privileged in society use charity to substitute justice in society. Even though the employees of Wal-Mart deserve higher pay as they are the ones who make the profits for the company, the managers of Wal-Mart prefer to give the returns to charity and control their employees and other poor people (Wilson 10).
This is a circumstance where ethical dilemma at the workplace is evident because Wal-Mart has to choose between fulfilling societal needs and fulfilling the needs of its employees. Justice demands that the organizational returns and profits be divided to all its stakeholders especially considering their contribution towards making that profit. With an increase in profits, there should be an increase in the compensation or remuneration that employees get. For instance, many people expect Wal-Mart to pay its employees well given the handsome profits that it makes as a company. This is, nonetheless, not the case for many big organizations which prefer to pay low or meager salaries to their employees and give to charity because by so doing they stand to gain power and a good reputation in the public. Therefor, such companies view charity work as a marketing strategy rather than a fulfillment of social responsibility. This is why choosing to compensate employees highly over charitable donations presents an ethical dilemma for majority of the companies (Kendzior 1).
There are many ethical theories that can be used to explain the basis of most processes that regard ethical decision-making. Such theories provide a variety of ethical considerations that guide the process of making decisions which is quite essential in resolving an ethical dilemma as it helps an individual select the most viable option. Utilitarianism, care ethics, egoism, deontology, and virtue ethics are among the well known ethical theories but even though each of these theories is usually applied in real life situations when resolving ethical dilemmas, the utilitarianism ethical theory remains the most intriguing (Werhane 62).
J.S. Mill and Jeremy Bentham are the most famous proponents of the utilitarianism theory and they are philosophers who believed that when faced with an ethical dilemma, people must be guided by the principle that ensures the greatest benefits for most of the people involved. They attributed this to the fact that the outcome of an action can be a useful factor in determining whether the act in itself is good or bad and as such the theory is intended to make sure that the happiness of other people is taken into account when making decision. This concept is often referred to as the “Greatest Happiness Principle” and it can be applied by any organization including Wal-Mart, in which case the company may decide to consider the happiness of its workers and thus increase their compensation. The key factor to consider when making this decision is therefore the number of people affected positively or negatively by an action and this should be considered without any regard of the effect of the action on the individual (Fullerton 128). For instance, in the train driver analogue mentioned earlier, utilitarianism theory demands that the driver runs over his own son in order to save the hundreds of passengers in the train and their dependents. This is mainly due to the consequences of such an action as it will maximize a positive outcome for most of the people involved. However, if taken, the same action will maximize the pain for the driver, considering that the victim is his son.
The main assumption of the utilitarianism theory is that the greatest good that people seek is happiness, characterized by the absence of pain, and as such proponents of this theory believe that morality can be weighed by happiness universally because people across the universe desire it. In fact, the advocates of the utilitarianism believe that man constantly searches for happiness and one of the means of achieving this is by upholding justice and human rights. Due to its assumptions, there have been many criticisms directed towards this theory. Critics have often argued that happiness cannot be used as a true measure of morality in every situation and across all cultures involved. Happiness is relative and has a complex meaning for different people and as such, this theory cannot protect all the human rights and offer justice to everyone based on these assumptions only (Werhane 84).
Different ethical approaches ought to be applied in different situations to facilitate ethical decisions at all times. This can help one to get rid of any of the biasness brought about by the limitations of using just one ethical approach. For example, the egoism theory can be applicable when making personal decisions, especially because it advocates for decisions that improve the self, and factors such as individual needs and happiness are the main determinants of what is wrong and right. This theory is nevertheless not appropriate for making decisions that affect many people. Critics of this theory have stated that in some cases, the pursuit of fulfillingindividual needs may affect other people negatively and this may result in legal and moral issues. Professional decisions can easily be made by applying the deontology theory (Brenkert and Tom 161). This theory places a lot of emphasis on fulfilling an individual’s duty and may also apply in the social setting, because it requires a prior understanding of one’s responsibilities. The theory of care ethics, on the other hand is more focused on the decisions that foster good relationships with other people, especially those that are vulnerable. In organizing the charity drives for its employees, Wal-Mart applies this approach. Finally, the virtue theory compels people to consider the virtues that are valued within a society in making their decisions. The fact that different cultures have different interpretation for what is right and what is not poses a limitation to this theory. Ultimately all the above theories are meant to guide the decision making process with the aim of improving access to justice and equality for all. These theories can be applied depending on the situation that a person faces in the process of decision making (Werhane 80).
The entrepreneurial world operates on profit optimization standard and this is particularly important considering that business operations depend on the profits made on the capital investment. In essence, different employees work together to make maximum profits for the organization, despite the fact that each individual has his or her own responsibilities to enhance organization. This brings into the picture the issue of rank whereby every employee is compensated commensurate to his or her job description. The issue of rank, in turn, introduces division of power within the organization from the executive to the grassroots. For leaders, the choice to use the theory of egoism solely in the process of decision making can result in the exploitation of employees because of the need to maximize profits for oneself (Fullerton 128). There are those individuals who have failed to exercise their power appropriately, and as a result of their abuse of power, they exploit their subjects. Resistance to such leadership can often result in the looming threat of salary cuts, demotion, or even work discontinuity. On the other hand, those who comply with the actions and demands of such leaders are usually rewarded at the expense of erosion of individual values. This presents an ethical dilemma in which individuals struggle to maintain their autonomy and at the same time avoid losing their sources of livelihood. At individual, societal, and international levels, those with less power are the most affected by exploitation (Wilson 8).
At the individual level, every person is negatively affected by exploitation and this stems from the universal human need for respect and appreciation when rendering services. Exploitation is therefore demeaning to the subject and it can breed feelings of failure and bitterness.
In addition it also tends to affect the performance and productivity in the workplace due to issues of low self-esteem. Employees may further develop feelings of fear and dread, and thus create an unhealthy working environment. Exploitation definitely acts as a hindrance to financial development of the employees, and this may result in the suffering of the entire society because when those in less power are exploited, the poverty rates skyrocket. Cheap compensation for long working hours tend to demoralize a society and reduce their value as well as living standards. The Wal-Mart example is very suitable in describing the fate of exploited workers and this is because the employees live in utter poverty despite the fact that they generate a lot of profit for their company. Such a situation can spill over to international spheres depending on the form of exploitation. An example of the international levels spillover effects is the exploitation of whole countries by the more powerful ones which perpetuates high poverty rates and underdevelopment (Wilson 10).
It is therefore apparent that exploitation tends to have far-reaching adverse effects that can range from individual to international levels. There is thus need to develop an effective strategy to prevent such situations. A change of policies in how public affairs are run can help the world to reduce exploitation levels. This is only possible is there is a complete overhaul of those who hold powerful positions. Democracy demands that every stakeholder be given the chance to select their leaders and elect them into power. Nevertheless, the indifference of people to matters concerning public affairs has resulted in the rule by evil men as was noted by Plato. This therefore calls for the participation in world affairs in order for the world is to curb the problem of exploitation (Martinson 93). For example, in order to balance between the allocations of money for charity and employee compensation at Wal-Mart, there is need for the workers to exercise their right by taking part in the decision-making processes of the company (Kandizior 1).
In brief, the challenges of ethical aspects are caused by several factors and approaches that are used in resolving them. For example, the use of egoism ethical approach in solving an issue is different from using the utilitarian approach because while the former is egocentric in nature, the latter is other-centered (Garber 1). Violations of ethics can have adverse effects on the people with less power since it can cause exploitation while those in power strive to maximize profits for themselves. Exploitation can come in many forms including overworking individuals and compensating them poorly despite the profits they amass for the company (Fleischacker 161). Wal-Mart store which amasses a lot of profit but compensates its workers poorly in order to indulge in charity work clearly exemplifies this scenario hence reflecting on the applicability of St Augustine’s quote ‘Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.’ To prevent the adverse effects of exploitation and other injustices, it is necessary to apply Plato’s ideology by getting involved in public affairs to prevent evil men from becoming rulers.
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