Summary of Kantian Ethics
The Kantian Ethics invoke the moral perspective in the pursuit of solutions to the problems of everyday life. The theory was developed in the 18th century by German philosopher Immanuel Kant. It offers a foundation for ethics by providing useful tools for identifying, analyzing, and decision making in various situations (“Kantian Ethics” 1). Kant’s moral philosophy is based on the actions of a person and not the moral standpoint of the one committing the act (“Kantian Ethics 2). From the Kantian ethical viewpoint, whether an action is morally right or not depends fundamentally on the actions of the agent or performer of the act.
The Kantian theory in non-consequentialist. It is the actions of the person that is central to evaluation as opposed to consequences arising from such activities. According to the Kantian Ethical theory, what makes an action moral is if it is per what the moral law demands (“Kantian Ethics” 5). The rationale for determining the morality of an action is whether or not it applies universally and necessarily to all human beings. For example, when an action is based on desire, it is contingent on something, which dilutes its universality. As such, it lacks the moral value. For Kant, an action only reaches the threshold of morality if it derives from the moral law and if it is done from a sense of duty (“Kantian Ethics” 7). Therefore, the core concept of what makes an action moral for Kant is whether or not it applies universally and necessarily to all human beings to be considered moral.
The Kantian Ethical theory provides the tools necessary for evaluating the morality of an action. The central principle according to Kant which governs actions and intentions is the principle of categorical imperative (“Kantian Ethics” 7). Two of its most commonly used maxims are the universal and humanity formulations. The former implores upon humans to only act on those proposals which can be willed to a universal law without contradiction. The humanity formulation offers a guide for determining if something morally problematic is at play. Kant uses the humanity formulation to assert that people should always act in ways to treat another person never as a means, but as an end themselves (“Kantian Ethics” 10). The key question to the idea human formulation is that the people have to give their rational consent to being treated in a certain manner. Kant argues that getting a fully formed rational consent is information relative. As such, we are obligated to provide as much information as possible (“Kantian Ethics” 10). For an action to be morally permissible, it has to satisfy the ideas formulations of the universal and humanitarian principles.
The main idea in Kant’s depiction of morality is that persons are central entities in a world and that they command respect. Whether an action is morally right depends on the intentions of undertaking it. The philosopher lays the ability to reason as the basis of personhood and morality (“Kantian Ethics” 18). Further, the categorical imperative provides humanity with the tools to critically think, analyze, and judge the moral status of a given situation (“Kantian Ethics” 18). Immanuel Kant bases the foundation of morality on our capacity to reason and being responsive to the perspective of the other person.
Blood for Sale.
Plasma International, a company based in Tampa, Florida sparked a major controversy on the morality of selling blood. An investigation by a Tampa paper discovered that the company was purchasing blood in West Africa for as low as 10 cents per pint and reselling it for $25 (Shaw 88). The findings sparked a fierce debate on whether the sale of blood discouraged potential donors from saving lives by freely donating blood. The expose may have triggered controversy, but it soon emerged that the commercialization of the blood donation business is nothing new in the United States.
The controversy sparked comparison with other blood donation systems in the world. The National Health Service in Great Britain, for example, relies purely on a voluntary system of blood donation (Shaw 88). Blood is available to anyone who needs it without any form of charge or obligation. Additionally, donors gain no preference over the non-donors. A study conducted by economist Richard Titmuss showed that the blood donation system in Britain was superior to the one in the United States (Shaw 88). The commercialized blood market in the U.S. was associated with wastefulness, shortages, and propensity to distribute contaminated blood (Shaw 88). Also, the administrative costs, bureaucracy, and paperwork made acquiring blood expensive by as much as fifteen times as in Great Britain. The commercialized market is also likely to distribute contaminated blood. The sale of blood marks commercialization of our lives and will characterize similar changes in various attitudes, relationships, and motives in major human aspects.
Commercialization of blood in the U.S. is ethically sound based on Kant’s views on morality. The rationale is that Plasma International intends to distribute blood to those who need it the U.S. Also, the founders of the firm treat humans with respect and recognize that they are central entities in the world. The company respects the capacity to reason and also considers its perspective. Based on these reasons, selling blood just like any other commodity in the U.S. is ethical.
Hacking into Harvard.
The tentative wait to find out if admission to a particular university is successful or not is usually a highly tense affair for both the applicants and their close relatives. An anonymous hacker offered these hopefuls a chance to find out their fate before the official release date. The hacker provided what looked like easy and simple instructions to follow. Consequently, it allowed the applicants to intrude a restricted page of a URL containing the decision from the respective universities. Major universities in the United States such as Harvard, Dartmouth, MIT, Duke, and Stanford used the same software which the hackers compromised (Shaw 76). When these universities found out about the intrusion of privacy, they decided to reject all the applications of those hopefuls who intruded the restricted page.
The majority of these the applicants who attempted to gain access to the restricted URL page found blank screens, with only a few learning their fate. Harvard and MIT were united in their verdict to reject the applications arguing that it was an “unethical breach of trust” (Shaw 77). Duke and Dartmouth, who only suffered a few casualties, decided they would deal with the breach on a case by case basis (Shaw 77). Stamford invited all the forty-two applicants who attempted the breach to explain their actions in writing. The university, however, rejected all the applications. The reason given was that none of the explanations met Stanford’s expectations. Harvard’s much-publicized decision to dismiss all the 119 applications sparked a wave of criticism from concerned stakeholders (Shaw 77). The opponents of the decision argued that the collective nature of the rejections was insensitive of individual facts of each case.
The decisions by the universities to reject applications of the students who attempted to gain unauthorized entry was ethical. The explanation was that they motivated by the intention to encourage integrity on the part of the applicants. Also, the applicants demonstrated poor judgment on their end by electing to follow the hacker’s lead. As such, the decisions to reject their application reached the standard of morality according to Kant.
Ship Breakers of Bangladesh.
The ship-breaking industry is an example of a decision by global businesses to transfer environmental pollution to lower income countries. Ship cutting was done in the United States and Europe until the 1970s. Strict regulatory laws forced these companies to migrate to the Asian tiger economies of Taiwan and Korea (Mohaiemen 2). The 80s, however, saw these countries also ban the trade. Consequently, the industry turned to developing economies such as India and Bangladesh. The ship-breaking yards in Bangladesh alone dismantle about 90 giant ships, mostly oil tankers, every year (Mohaiemen 3). The business of scrapping obsolete ships is currently concentrated in countries in South Asia.
Ship-breaking is a highly risky affair. Both the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UN Special Rapporteur on Toxic Products have outlined the environmental hazards of this industry. Accidents from leftover gases and fumes is a primary safety concern (Mohaiemen 3). Also, chemicals released in the process of dismantling the ship continues to be a hotly contested debate among the circles concerned with the safety of the workforce. The potential release of toxins such as asbestos, lead, arsenic, chromates, and mercury during the dismantling process is a genuine concern by the ILO (Mohaiemen 3). Ship-building companies, however, refuse to acknowledge them to avoid possible admission of violation of international environmental laws.
The ship breaking industry in Bangladesh is a highly unregulated industry. The sector directly employs over 300,000 people and provides 80% of the country’s steel needs (Mohaiemen 5). Understandably, government authorities are reluctant to interfere. As the volume of ships continues to increase, pressure shifted towards achieving more efficiency rather than being eco-friendly. Media attention focussed in Alang, India that dismantled over half of the world’s ships (Mohaiemen 6). Eventually, the ship breaking industry moved to countries with minimal regulations such as Bangladesh. The availability of cheap labor coupled with low controls transformed the country to an affordable destination for unregulated goods.
A consortium environment stakeholder instigates pressure to reform the ship-wrecking industry. The group comprises major European NGOs, activists, and environmentalists from India and Bangladesh. The advocates insist that developed countries have to undertake initial steps to reduce risks (Mohaiemen 8). Efforts to introduce reform into the sector have encountered fierce criticism from the Bangladeshi society. The business sector is keen to protect the status quo, arguing that it is vital towards fulfilling the local demand for steel. Further, some say that developing countries deserve a “dirty” period of industrialization just like the Western countries did (Mohaiemen 8). Adopting a similar model to the ship-breaking industry in Bangladesh and India, however, will expose LCDs to long-term health and labor disasters (Mohaiemen 8). The reforms need to start at the originating countries to ensure the released ships are toxic free. The shipwrecking countries also need to unionize and push for safety standards.
Several reasons validate the morality of the ship dismantling industry in India and Bangladesh. First, the sector recognizes the feelings of the workers and respects them as central entities. Second, the firms intend to meet the immediate local needs of their respective economies. Lastly, the enterprises refer to the sense of duty and derive from the moral law in their decision making. Therefore, the industry in the South Asian countries is considered moral from Kant’s perspective.
The story of Enron is one of a regional gas trader who rose to become the largest in the world and then fell to bankruptcy and disgrace. The company colluded with its investment bankers, accountants, among others, to hide debts accrued by the company (“Enron” 2). When the conspiracy was revealed, it became apparent that the company also inflated its stock share price. The cheating was achieved by a series of off-the-book partnerships managed by the company’s directors (“Enron” 2). The firm used underhand accounting tactics to bolster its bottom line. Consequently, retirement savings of many of its average employees got wiped out when the company’s shares subsequently plummeted. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and later sold its energy trading unit (“Enron” 2). The company executives were imprisoned as a result of the scandal. Also, together with the banks, they paid fines amounting to billions of dollars in fines. The Enron fiasco was an example of an elaborate scheme concocted by banks and directors with the intention to defraud.
The conspiracy by the firm’s directors and investment banks to perform an accounting cheat is immoral from Kant’s perspective. The conspirators deliberately withheld crucial information from the company’s shareholders. As such, no one could have independently made a fully consented decision regarding their shares at the firm. As a result, the intention of the directors was flawed. As such, the morality of their actions does not meet the criterion set by Kant. It follows that their actions were unethical, unreasonable, and motivated by a selfish desire to accumulate material wealth.
The Parable of Sadhu.
The story is about a moral dilemma encountered by a group of men keen to get to the top of the Himalayas. The men are from different cultural backgrounds. While in pursuit of their goal, they encounter an almost naked holy Indian man at the brink of death. The interaction soon morphs into an ethical question as the men debate what to do. A man named Stephen begins by stripping their clothes and covering the sadhu’s nakedness amid the freezing temperatures (McCoy 95). The author leaves the man with Stephen and proceeds with his journey towards the top of the mountain. The dilemma from the interaction with the man raises questions on is the right thing to do in the situation.
Analysis of the Case Study based on the Kantian Ethics.
The intentions of the author and those who decided to leave the helpless man are key towards evaluating the morality of their actions. The men decided to leave the other individual in his hopeless state because they felt that helping him any longer would compromise their chances of reaching their goal. Their intentions were positive, and so was the decision to leave the helpless man unassisted. Therefore, based on the Kantian Ethical perspective, the men who left the Sadhu unaided acted morally.
“Enron” Case Study.
“Kantian Ethics.” Slides.
McCoy, Bowen H., and Thomas Friedman. The Parable of the Sadhu. Phoenix Learning Group, 2007.
Shaw, William H., and Vincent Barry. Moral Issues in Business. Cengage Learning, 2015.