ETHICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

 

 

Ethical perspectives

In approaching this ethical dilemma, I will fall back to three ethical perspectives for guidance. The three perspectives come from the utilitarian, deontological, and the Aristotelian ethical theories. The first is the Kantian ethical perspective. This moral view is derived from the 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (Pullen-Sansfacon and Cowden 2012). According to Kant, the outcome of an action is not necessary in deciding its morality. Instead, it is the motivation behind the action that should determine the rightness or the wrongness of an action. In this perspective the moral value of the outcome of an action cannot be separated from the moral value of its motive. Thus, if the motive of an action was wrong, the end result does not matter since it has already been morally invalidated by its intentions.

Whenever faced with such a dilemma Kant advises that we should look at a decision in two perspectives (Dolgoff 2004). One, we should make sure that the decision we take can be universalized. This means that if someone else from another different region, culture or religion were to make the same choice, we would definitely arrive at the same decision. In this situation, for example, I must ask myself, if a UK national for instance were to make the same choice, would he or she make it the same as mine. If not, then my decision cannot be universalized. The second question, according to Kant that I should ask myself is, if I were in the same situation, would like to be treated the same. This is the moral view that we should do on to others what we would like done on to us (Hugman 2005).

The Kantian moral view can be classified into two kinds of duties: negative and the positive duties.  The negative duties are absolute, that is not negotiable. As human beings, as Kant would advise, I have a negative duty not to lie, murder, steal or cheat (Wood 1999, p. 11). The positive duty is more flexible as it involves improving me and helping others. This could mean that should look into the welfare of our clients and my benefits which means keeping quiet and hiding the truth. However, whenever the positive duty collides with the negative duty, the latter takes precedence. This means that I bound not to lie neither to cheat. In this case I have to disclose the truth, no matter how it is unfavourable. The moral good of speaking the truth justifies my action as morally right.

Therefore, if the two formulas of the universal law and the End in itself are to be put into consideration in this case, I will have to disclose the underhand information to the relevant authority (Mazur 2010). It does not matter that I will lose the only source of my income and jeopardise the well being of our clients, what matters is that I will have lived the principles of the moral good. Kant calls it the epitome of human dignity (Hughes et al 2006, p. 204). That means, I will have made my decision as a rational agent and exercised my powers of free choice.

The second perspective is the utilitarianism. In utilitarian ethics, the end justifies the means. This is an ethical perspective derived from the moral view of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. The moral determinant of the rightness or the wrongness of an action is the total happiness that an action produces (Hammond 1991). In this regard, we should act ways that maximise the total happiness and refrain from those actions that are likely to result in pain. It does not matter what actions we take to arrive at our end results, what matters is the amount of happiness that our action produces. This ethical perspective is classified as a consequentialist because it is the consequences of an action that matters in determining its morality or its immorality thereof.

If I have to follow a utilitarian perspective in deciding my case, then I have a moral duty to maximize happiness and reduce any chance of inflicting or harm or pain to another. The morality of my decision will be measured by its greatest happiness it produces. Thus the only applicable formula in deciding my case is finding the equilibrium decision which produces the greatest happiness and the least pain (Bowles 2006). In this case I will have to balance the benefit that the immigration authorities will earn when the illegal workers are brought to book against the loss that our social workers and the illegal working clients will suffer when our source of hope is brought to an abrupt end.

Since the benefits that our workers and the illegal working clients (not to mention their families back home) will gain from maintaining the status quo is the greatest happiness, then I will have to hide the information. The benefit of this theory is that it allows what could have been considered morally wrong in Kantian ethics if the sole purpose is to maximize the total happiness. To this end am excused from lying, cheating and withholding the secret information to safeguard our source of livelihood and those of our clients (Banks 2003). After all, the end justifies the means.

If I can take none of the Kantian ethics or the utilitarian ethics, I still have an option of applying the Aristotelian theory in settling my case. The Aristotelian theory is a theory of virtue. It derives its ethical perspective from the great ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. From this perspective, an action can not be judged either right or wrong. Instead, the rightness or the wrongness of an action depends with the character of the doer. 

This ethical perspective is more concerned with what constitute a virtuous person (Smith 2004). According to Aristotle, a virtuous person is constituted of four basic moral virtues: courage, temperance, justice and prudence (Spencer 2012). Whenever we behave, we should behave in a manner to safeguard these four fundamental moral values that determine what we should be. This type of the ethical perspective will be the hardest to determine the morality of my decision in this case. For instance, will revealing the secret information reflect courage, justice temperance or prudence? In deciding these questions Aristotle advises that we exercise reason. It is the reason that will guide in deciding the necessary courage temperance in judging what ought to be just.

Perhaps it is the other related virtues like empathy, kindness, honesty, tolerance, dependability, benevolence just to mention a few that should guide in determining the morality of either decision in this case (Beckett and Maynard 2005). However, in light of this case, Aristotelian virtues are conflicting. If for instance I decide to spill the beans, I will not have acted in empathy and kindness both to myself and illegal working clients. At the same time, if I conceal the information; I shall have violated the virtue of honesty. In such a case, as virtuous Ethicist would advise, I should behave in such a manner that another virtuous person would behave in the same way. This to me is concealing the information.

This process was a humbling experience. I have always considered myself to be of high moral grounds, but from this experience I realised there are some situations that can really challenge our moral standing. Despite my strict moral standing, I realised that in life, or in applied ethics, there are situations that will arise which do not have a clear cut answer. Our moral standards will be torn in two not knowing which side to compromise. In the case study for example, I did not know whether to obey the legal structure of the UK government concerning immigration or to safeguard my interest and those of the illegal workers. When I looked at the situation of the Afghan immigrants and their situation back at home, I could not help but sympathise with their situations. But here I was with an option of behaving morally as the deontological perspective would demand and compromise my empathy and concerns of others and myself or conceal the truth and safeguard the interest for the needy

Either way, the choice was hard. This is the time I learnt that life does not always offer direct choices, and in some instances we shall be called to make hard choices. Yes, one may be oriented to any side of ethics, but all the ethical perspectives are not enough to guide as through in our ethical behaviours. To some extent they may give us a justification to our decisions, but they have no complete road map to ethical decision making process. If for instance I come from the moral strictness advocated by Immanuel Kant, I will be forced to compromise some of outcomes of my ethical decisions that I consider ethical (Wood 1999, p.11). The moral strictness of the deontological theory does not consider situations. If, on the other hand, I adopt the consequentialist approach, I will be left to compromise the means in favour of the end (Wulfekuehler 2008, p.6). Whether the end justifies the means or the means justifies the end, are just some of the complex ethical situations that life circumstances will offer.

The ethical dilemma brought me back to trying to understand whether morality is absolute or relative. The moral strictness proposed by Kant may be considered absolute. It does not matter what the moral outcome is, if the motive behind an action was wrong, the action is immoral. The consequentialist ethics also incline to this ethical absoluteness. If an action does not yield the greatest happiness, it is considered immoral. Therefore, is ethic determined from this moral strictness or does it depend with the situation? People who come from a moral high ground will be heavily inclined to moral absoluteness, but from this experience I had no choice than to conclude that ethic is relative. It depends with the situation and the perspective of the interpreter.

The above analysis, more or less, forced me to adopt an Aristotelian perspective. An action can not be considered to be either right or wrong, what matters is the character of the doer (Robinson and Reeser 2002). This is because in a moral dilemma, either decision from an absolute perspective will compromise an ethical standard. This is the reason why in ethical dilemma, we should focused on the virtues of the person rather than the act itself. It is therefore important that whenever faced with a moral consequence, we should be focused on attaining the highest virtue. Yes, the virtues in ethical dilemma may be conflicting, but the virtue we settle to should be the one that every other virtuous person making such a decision would too settle to (Gray and Webb 2010). This can only be the reliable principle in making an ethical decision. Above all, the most crucial lesson from this experience is that morality is relative. It depends with situations. We can not pretend to be of a particular moral ground because complex issues will call for different perspective. The best action in making that decision is making a rational decision. This means that we have to employ the wisdom of our judgement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

List of References

Banks, S. (2003) Ethics, Accountability and the Social Professions.  London: Palgrave, Basingstoke

Beckett C. and Maynard, A. (2005) Values and Ethics in Social Work: An introduction Sage, London.

Bowles W et al (2006) Ethical Practice in Social Work. Buckingham: OUP

Dolgoff, R. et al. (2004) Ethical Decisions for Social Work Practice (7th Edition) Thomson Learning, London

Gray M & Webb S (2010) Ethics and Value Perspectives in Social Work. Manchester: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hammond P (1991) Consequentialist Decision theory and Utilitarian Ethics. California: Stanford University

Hughes M et al (2006) Social Work and Social Care Practice. London: Sage Publication.

Hugman, R. (2005) New Approaches to Ethics in the Caring Profession. London:Palgrave, Basingstoke

Mazur TC (2010) Lying. Santa Clara: Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Pullen-Sansfacon A & Cowden S (2012) The Ethical Foundation of Social Work. Harlow: Pearson-Longman

Robinson W & Reeser L (2002) Ethical Decision-Making in Social Work. London: Allyn & Bacon

Smith J (2004) The ethics of Aristotle. [Online] Available at: http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/aristotl/ethics-aristotle.pdf [Accessed on Nov.28, 2012]

Spencer D (2012) Three Ethical Perspectives. Kansas: University of Kansas

Wood A (1999) Kant’s Ethical Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 11, 11

Wulfekuehler H (2008) Ethical Theories and Social Work.  IUC Journal of Social Work Vol. 17(6), p.1-12.

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