The object of this essay is to establish whether there is an ethical theory that can be successfully applied to business organizations. In order to answer this question, it is necessary first to define the major ethical theories, which are utilitarianism, deontology and virtue ethics, before determining whether there are any other options. After that, the ethical needs, problems and limitations of work organizations will have to be examined so that the different theories can be evaluated in this context. It will also be important to draw a distinction between the terms “accurate” and “useful” as these actually result in two different questions the answer to which need not necessarily be the same. Another essential part of this discussion is the more general question why there should be ethics in work organizations in the first place, and to what extent ethical behavior is feasible in the business world. Hopefully this will provide a framework within which the answer to the essay question can be included.
To begin with, the “traditional” approaches to solving moral problems will be defined, namely those of act-utilitarianism and deontology. These are traditional not because they have existed longer than virtue ethics, but because for a long time they have been the approaches most commonly used as a basis for trying to solve ethical problems. After looking at these two moral theories, the approach of virtue ethics regarding moral dilemmas will be investigated in order to compare differences and advantages as well as problems.
Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. It adopts the consequentialist view that it must be right to make the world a better place and therefore the right action is the one that produces the best consequences. Utilitarianism takes this one step further and defines the action that will produce the best consequences as the one that produces the most happiness. Act-utilitarianism holds that each case should be judged separately in terms of which possible action would maximise happiness; this means that there are no rules to follow, but the theory seems to provide a decision-procedure to act upon in that one acts upon a principle of justice.
Intuitively this seems to be an appealing solution to ethical dilemmas. To maximise happiness makes utilitarianism a noble ideal. Furthermore, we are offered a clear decision making procedure when confronted with situations of moral uncertainty, with a definite goal towards which we should strive, namely the fulfilment of the Greatest Happiness Principle. In addition to this it has the property of universalisality in that the right action will be right for everyone. However, as a pragmatic and functional system of moral analysis, Utilitarianism has a number of difficulties. One of the major problems is the fact that it is extremely difficult to quantify happiness, and if it is not possible to decide which of several available...