The following is a paper on ethics written for my persuasion class. The assignment was to write a paper on what choice you would make in a given situation and why.
Situation C: You are in charge of an advertising campaign for a line of automobiles. Just as your campaign is ready to hit the media, a defect is discovered that may cause the car to explode into flames, killing everyone inside. But your company’s statisticians have determined that the defect is so rare that the cost of paying off the court awards would be less than recalling the cars and fixing the defect, so the cars are going on the market. Do you release your ad campaign as scheduled?
Of all the ethical dilemmas presented in this assignment, this one seemed the most challenging and presented the most to consider in making an ethical decision. The points that I felt were most important in making this decision (and which reveal my many- faceted ethical perspectives) follow in no order of importance:
One thing I could consider is would I blame myself for any deaths that may occur, or do I assign responsibility to the management? The mitigation of blame is a common result of cognitive dissonance. If we can find a way to blame others we feel better about doing something we normally wouldn’t. From an ethical standpoint, the question isn’t so simple. A consequentialist may say that there is no blame that could be assigned to self in this situation, whereas a universalist would say it doesn’t matter who is to blame for future events – the current events are either wrong or right if carried out.
A second aspect I could consider is the question would potential loss of jobs and subsequent damage to countless lives if I refuse to do my job be a worse outcome than the potential that would exist for fatal car accidents? In a related question, would me not doing my job have any effect on other’s jobs? This is more of a consequentialist question. What will the consequences to others be and which will be worse? A Deontological approach to this question wouldn’t be so much about who was at risk, but what my intentions behind my decision were. Was my decision based on my love for my co-workers and shareholders, or for the toddlers in the backseat? A Deontological answer would be that it doesn’t matter who I was caring for as long as I was caring as much as I could.
Third, what are the legal ramifications towards me? What about towards my company? If this question is what defines my answer, I will know I’m an Amoralist. Amoralists are those who feel the only constraints we have are legal or cultural, rather than innate. I find it significant that I have no interest in the fact that the company is concerned over what will cost less – legal fees or fixing the defect – as it applies to this decision. Rather, the company’s cost-oriented perspective causes me to rethink my allegiance to this organization.
Fourth, what are my values?
This final point – that of values – is the most significant and may serve to identify me as a relativist. Because this question is an instance of cognitive dissonance, I believe the first thing to do is to examine any preexisting values. I believe that the standards and values that each person has established in past experience and in preparation for future crisis can be guideposts to solutions. By this I mean to say that if we’ve found some way of behaving which causes us to be happy and brings a minimum of psychological stress we can use these same methods to make future decisions. Any ethical dilemma, at its heart, is a question of individual values. If I were unsure of my values I would need to examine all these listed aspects of the dilemma in order to discover my own values, change my mind on certain issues, and eventually come to a positive resolution.
I find it interesting that my ethical approach is not solidly set in any one ‘method.’ I am not wholly pragmatic, nor amoral – although I do share some standpoints with those who are. There are a few things I consider universally wrong or right, but in practice it’s difficult to tell.
I believe that not only are there ‘wrongs’ and ‘rights’ but there are also degrees of each. Often it seems to me that it’s okay to do a ‘wrong’ of a moderate degree in order to get a ‘right’ of high degree. This would seem to put me in the “ends justify the means” category of ethicist, yet at the same time I have certain things that I see as only moderately ‘wrong’ and still I refuse to do them. If I’m so conflicted with my ethical standpoint, it’s no wonder the United States legal system is so apparently conflicted as it is.
In this situation I would leave the company, refusing to run the ad. My reason for this is that I am aware that I would have feelings of guilt and remorse if anybody was injured. Is this a selfish motivation? That’s another good ethical question for some other time, perhaps. It would be easy for me to say that it is ultimately the decision of the administration and therefore their fault. However, I also feel that it’s the duty of each member of an organization to be a moral strength to the company. This opinion has a high degree of ‘importance’ in my mind. I, therefore, would feel a responsibility to act in a way that will either produce a safer vehicle or terminate my relationship with a company that doesn’t share my values. Is that less selfish?
Would this affect the company? Yes. Even to the point that people may lose jobs. But I would still be able to sleep at night. Although I’d like there to be a big “Do not…” and “Do…” list written in the stars, in my personal evaluation of the universe ethics has to be question of individual morality and values. Yet even in taking this standpoint I also claim that there are limits – I don’t mean to say that personal ethics is the same as personal freedom. Just because a person believes he’s saving souls by putting arsenic in the punch doesn’t mean its right. This clearly illustrates to me that we can be wrong about being ethically ‘right.’ To reduce the cognitive dissonance of that conflict let’s just say I subscribe to a certain amount of absolutism. Even if I think I’m right – I might be wrong… I feel right about that.