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Virtue Ethics in Organizations
Jim Smith has worked for the ABC Insurance Company for the past twenty-three years. Jim graduated with a top-notch accounting degree and he also has his MBA. Bar none, Jim is considered by everyone in his organization to be a brilliant accountant. At issue is that Jim's brilliance may be coupled with just a little too much "creativity" when one considers his approach to maximizing the company's profits.
At the end of every quarter, Jim calls up the supervisors of each of ABC's insurance branches, and asks them to estimate their outstanding insurance claims. These insurance claims represent money that the company very likely owes its customers – i.e., claims are estimates of money owed at the end of the quarter to ABC's customers who are likely to file a claim in the near future, but who have not yet done so (the total money owed - but still outstanding - is referred to as a "claims lag", since there is a lag from the date on which an insurable event has occurred to that point in time at which ABC has become aware that a customer has filed a valid claim).
For instance, based on historical experience, at the end of each quarter, Division 1 of ABC Company estimates that 20% of all claims for that quarter are still outstanding (i.e., an insurable event has occurred, but has not yet been reported to Division 1). This is the number (20%) reported to Jim. Being the "brilliant" accountant that he is, and in light of his sheer eagerness to maximize profits for the quarter (and because his quarterly bonus is based on each quarter's profits!), Jim reduces the outstanding claims reported by all of ABC's insurance divisions by 10%. In doing so, Jim has effectively reduced the company's quarterly claims expenses by this same 10% --- and voila! -- Jim has also managed a creative increase in his own quarterly bonus.
As you might guess, Jim sees nothing wrong in further reducing the divisions' company claims estimates, reasoning: "Look...they're all a bunch of estimates anyhow!" Jim further opines: "Besides, I have a duty to this company and to its stockholders - and that is to maximize profits!"
Consider this situation from a virtue ethics perspective. What virtues are at stake?
Utility Ethics in Organizations
John is a warehouse supervisor who works for a national company that sells high-quality (and very expensive) electronics - e.g., HD television sets, business and home computers, and business and personal laptops. John has a high school education, and has been employed by the company for 10 years. Recently, John was promoted to an exempt (salaried) low-level management position; his present annual salary is $60,000. Over the past two months, John has been stealing HD television sets from his employer - and reselling them. To date, he has stolen $15,000 in merchandise. When John's wife – Jane – takes note of the rapid growth in the family's savings account, she asks John about the source of the money. John's astonished response is: "Jane! Are you kidding? Consider the extra money as a company bonus -- well, it’s sort of a bonus anyway….Look, Jane, while I make better money than I used to, it's not enough compensation for all the stuff I do. This company can afford to pay me far more than what they pay – and they choose not to. The way I look at it, I’ve earned this extra money! It's a well-deserved and hard-earned bonus, Jane. You know that we can barely pay our bills. I'm doing what is best for our family! I have to do what I think is best for my family, even if I know it might be wrong!" What are the utility ethics raised in this situation? Be specific!
Suppose that a jet mechanic working for a major airline – we'll call the airline "AirXYZ" – finds a serious instrument wiring problem while inspecting one of the airline’s newest jets. The mechanic alerts management that the wiring problem is serious enough that it would cause the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ground the entire fleet of AirXYZ. Discuss the ethics of this situation in the context of utility ethics. What are the benefits and the costs to AirXYZ in choosing to notify the FAA and in opting to voluntarily ground its fleet of planes?
You are an expert security software programmer who works in top secret for the national government of the country of Zulu. Late one afternoon, you come across an ominous email in which you learn that a small group of sinister government officials from Zulu plan - in exactly one hour - to unleash a nuclear attack on the neighboring country of Delta. It happens that this very same group of officials is at odds with the neighboring country because of vastly different political and economic views. The bottom line? You are aware that if this missile is launched, the event will spawn World War III.
Because you are the only person in the country of Zulu who has knowledge of the specific program code that will be used to trigger this devastating missile launch, you alone are the one individual who has the capacity to de-program the event -- i.e., you could choose to cancel the launch altogether, or you could otherwise divert the nuclear missile to a neutral zone. In short, millions of innocent lives are now in your hands.
However, you adhere strictly to duty ethics (referred to as a “deontologist”). On the day that you assumed your role as a top-secret national security programmer, you took a solemn oath swearing that you would never intervene in any government action, no matter its consequences. In short, your duty is limited to software programming -- and to programming alone. Indeed, your oath entails that you have an explicit duty never to make a decision that extends beyond your software programming role. Moreover, you are sworn never to discuss your programs with any other human being - except for communication that may be required with a limited number of superiors. On any given day, these few superiors of yours are easily found somewhere in the building. But alas! On this day, you are unable to find even one superior for advice (are they perhaps bound and gagged somewhere in this massive building?).
What would a strict deontologist do? Why?
To whom or to what is your duty? This is not an easy question...but it is also what makes duty ethics so much fun!
What would Immanuel Kant's “Categorical Imperative” suggest you do here?
In this situation, would duty ethics be at odds with the thinking of Immanuel Kant? Explain.