Kantian and Utilitarian
Kant believed in an absolute moral law that he called the Categorical Imperative. It is this imperative that determines our duty. (2) Two formulations of this imperative can be used to determine the morally correct action that Alistair should choose. The first formulation, The Formula of Universal Law: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law [of nature]. “(2) Alistair has two possible maxims to act upon. These maxims, if it were universally applicable, are: “Anyone may lie in order to promote increasing human welfare” and “Everyone always tells the truth”.
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The first maxim is contradictory. If people had the option to lie, it negates the system of trust on which the world is built. When, for example, I put my money in the bank, I trust them to keep it safe. If the first maxim was universally accepted, I could not trust without reservation that the bank would keep my money safe because they would be able to give my money away if they felt it would increase the welfare of those less fortunate. If this was the case, there would be widespread mistrust and, ironically, it would have a negative impact on human welfare.
The second maxim is universally applicable and is thus, according to Kant, the maxim on which to act upon. The second formulation, The Formula of the End in Itself: “So act as to treat humanity, both in your own person, and in the person of every other, always at the same time as an end, never simply as a means. ”(2) If Alistair were to withhold the truth about the bribery, he denies the rationality of the board and denies that there is any rational action for them to perform.
He denies them the option to rationally make a decision on what to do about the situation. In doing this he is using the board merely as a means to ensure the delivery of the medicine. According to Kant, for Alistair to use the board as a means in themselves, he would have to tell the truth. According to Kant’s theory, the action of ignoring the bribe fails the first and second formulation of the Categorical Imperative, thus the right thing to do would be to tell the truth to the board of directors. Utalitarian Theory
Looking back at the case study it is clear that, on the one hand, people are receiving inexpensive kits of medicine, the drivers don’t get shot and the reputation of the relief organisation and the director is still intact. On the other hand, the board doesn’t know about the bribery, thus the unethical activity cannot be put to a stop. Utilitarianism is a theory based on consequences, not the action leading to the consequence. This theory holds that we should choose those actions that would result in the greatest amount of good in the interest of the greatest number of people affected by our actions. 1)(4) The “good” is anything that, directly or indirectly, brings happiness or pleasure. (4) The consequences of each particular action is considered to determine which outcome will best serve the greater good. (3) Act Utilitarianism prescribes that every situation be evaluated independently. The action that leads to the greatest net outcome of utility is then considered to be the correct choice. According to this theory, Alistair should choose the action that will maximise happiness and minimise unhappiness. Alistair has two possible choices with two different consequences.
The first is that Alistair tells the truth about the bribery. The possible outcome of his choice are the following: the drivers stop receiving cash and get shot, the contract is terminated and the less fortunate stop receiving their medicine, the director in charge of the contract is fired, and the relief organisation suffers great embarrassment. These are all negative effects and cause great unhappiness. On the other hand, the happiness of the board is increased because they can put a stop to more unethical activity.
The second choice that Alistair has to consider is to keep silent and overlook the bribe. This would lead to the situation staying the same (as stated in the case study) and would secure the happiness of the greater good which include: the director, the relief organisation, the drivers and the people receiving the medicine. The board of directors would not know about the bribe, so there would be no unhappiness to consider. Considering the consequences of both actions, the happiness of the greater good is maximised when Alistair keeps silent.