Ethics plays a key role in determining whether an action is right or wrong based on the actual or predicted outcomes of an individual’s decisions. This article explains that ethical decisions about regarding right or wrong are difficult and the consequences of such decisions are based on the individual’s awareness or uncertainty about the consequences of pursuing a particular course of action. An individual typically uses principles to guide his/her behavior when there is uncertainty about the implications of a particular course of action. In this paper i have used three main ethical theories; consequentialist theories, non-cons equalist theories, and agent-centered theories. They debate on whether an action should be regarded as either right or wrong while one is aware of the consequences that follow or follows a particular set of guidelines to inform his/her decision in situations where the consequences are uncertain.
The utilitarian approach is classified under cons equalist theories and as far as it is concerned actions can be termed as good or bad based on the amount of pleasure or pain they produce. The pain or pleasure, in this case, is the consequences of performing a right or wrong action. When making ethical decisions, the practical approach stresses that individuals ought to weigh the good and evil that may result from a particular action. The approach further highlights that analyzing the negative or positive results of a particular action helps individuals to pursue an action that provides good. Based on the utilitarian principle, one can draw the assumption that in best results are achieved with accurate knowledge of the consequences of a particular action.
An example of a situation that may prompt an individual to use the principle rule is a circumstance where a police officer finds difficulty in shooting down an innocent man. The officer knows that by killing the innocent man, he can save ten lives, but if he fails to kill the innocent man, he is one hundred percent that such a decision will lead to the loss of nine more lives. The utilitarian approach explains that one ought to weigh the positive and negative outcomes of a course of action and pursue one that results in more good than bad. The police officer thus has the obligation of killing an innocent man at the expense of saving nine more lives. In the police officer’s situation, the outcomes of each action are quite clear thus the reason why the best course of action does not follow a set of rule or principles are given that the consequences of not killing the innocent person are evident.
Another approach classified under non-consequentialist theories is the duty-based approach which is usually linked to Immanuel Kant. In the approach, Kant argued that in ethical decision making, doing the right thing is not related to the results of one’s actions rather involves having the proper motive in undertaking an action. Kant further developed an ethical formula for discovering moral duty which draws its premise from the idea that individuals act only based on a maxim which is our duty as rational creatures. Hence as far as Kant is concerned choosing to live according to the universal moral law forms the relevant aspect of acting ethically. The duty based approached, as explained by Kant, is entirely based on the assumption that the behavior of individuals ought to be based on a set of principals established by the law as a universally accepted maxim. Hence an action taken without considering the principles that predict its outcome is regarded as irrational and in violation of legal or ethical behavior.
An example of a decision making involving the duty-based approach is the case of a man who finds money hidden close to his home. According to the news, the money had been stolen from a nearby bank, and even though the culprits had been captured, they managed to hide the money. The man has a moral and legal obligation to do the right thing which involves informing the authorities about the secret money although he may choose not to notify the police and keep the money. The law sets forth some legal obligations that individuals are required to fulfill failure to which they are termed as law breakers. Principles help people in making informed decisions especially in situations where the future is uncertain. Even though informing the cops is the rational and right course of action, the man is unsure of the outcome if he decided to keep the money which is a chance he may be willing to take.
The fairness or justice approach is another method that guides decision making. The approach is also categorized under non-consequentialist theories and is applied to all individuals from different backgrounds. The American philosopher John Rawls argued that ethical ideologies are those chosen by able and rational persons in a situation of equality. The justice approach is considered as fair because it outlines a set of guidelines that elaborate on appropriate action. An example of a document with a set of directives is the constitution of a nation. The Constitution provides a set of guidelines followed thus simplifying the process of taking action. It also elaborates on the measures in the event a particular set of instructions gets violated. A practical example where the justice approach is followed is the situation where a government minister is implicated in a corruption case. The constitution has a clear set of guidelines and actions that ought to be pursued when dealing with such a case. The consequences of the minister’s actions are clearly outlined as a set of principles in the constitution thus making easy for the responsible persons to handle the minister’s case.
The divine command approach is also classified under the non-cons equalist approach and focuses on what is right as ethical standards set by God. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard argued that real action goes beyond a person’s morality to demonstrating a relationship between religion and right action.