Utilitarian Model and Ethical Dilemmas in Information Technology

The use of information technologies has been revolutionized over the years. Electric networks have made it possible to exchange information but have also brought several challenges in the process. The rights that people have in the usage of available resources have resulted in the development of some ethical dilemmas. On most occasions, organizations are not sure of the path to follow. Hospers asserts that an individual is morally obliged to choose an action that will maximize total happiness (Ermann & Shauf, 2003). This entails the happiness of the majority involved in any given case. The utilitarian model can address some dilemmas well while in other cases it is not applicable. Below are two dilemmas prevalent in the information technology arena that prove this stance.

Ergonomics/ Health Issues Dilemma

There are several ergonomic issues that can be related to Information Technology. There are various considerations that employers are required to give with regards to the working conditions that they accord employees. This is more in the usage of computers due to the effects that they might have on employees. Among the issues is ensuring that employees take adequate breaks while working on computers. Employers should also ensure that that the screens in use comply with the relevant regulations. The positioning of chairs in front of the computers should also be appropriate, and provide foot rests when needed. Organizations need to provide employees with special advice on these matters (Zhang, 2011). Ensuring that the room lighting is appropriate should also be considered.

The dilemma comes in that most organizations are not sure on whether to uphold these requirements. The issue frequently affects the small organizations. This is because they deem the issue to be capital intensive. Purchasing of computers that meet the required regulations is not cheap. Creation of the holistic desired environment will result in the consumption of funds that would have been easily saved and add up to the profits. However, what would be the general outcome?

The utilitarian ethical theory is very applicable in addressing this dilemma. The theory asserts that people should take actions that maximize total happiness. This means that organizations faced with this dilemma should take actions that enhance the well-being of most individuals that are affected by the issue. Failure of taking consideration of the relevant ergonomics issues will cause the employees to suffer direct health problems (Zhang, 2011). These include eye infections, eye strain, back problems and repetitive strain injury.

This shows that lack of ethical awareness by the organization will bring more harm to the employees. There is the probability of spending more funds in search for medical help as a result of the work-related complications. If the organizations were to be ethical and afford employees the desired working environment, the only thing they would incur is reduced profits. This is not something that should be of great concern since the costs involved are business-related. It is upon the organization to find other ways of saving on costs without putting the health of employees at risk. This way there will be an indication that they care about the welfare of the employees. This is what the utilitarian theory refers to as taking actions that ensure total happiness has been maximized. Total happiness is maximized in that employees will not be prone to eye problems, back problems among other issues that might arise. Everyone will be working with the feeling of fulfillment since they do not feel as if they are taking any unnecessary risks. This is likely to increase productivity to some extent.

Software Piracy Dilemma

Software piracy is among the actions that violate copyright agreements. Copying of software has become a severe problem. It is estimated that almost 50% of the programs being used in the world are pirated (Zhang, 2011). Pirating of software is costly to organizations since it results in massive losses. Some people might argue that individual piracy is not unethical since it might result in future purchases of the software. To some degree, it can also be argued that this form of piracy can lead to computer literacy. This is due to the enhanced computer interactions that individuals will have as they use the pirated software.

However, there is always a dilemma when the software piracy is being conducted on a large scale. There are serious losses likely to accrue to the software manufacturers, more so the small scale producers. Large companies such as Microsoft will not feel the effect of the losses since they have devised ways of protecting themselves (Reynolds, 2015).  Small businesses, on the other hand, are likely to incur extremely high losses. Such instances bring the dilemma as to whether the practice of software piracy is ethical.

The utilitarian theory does not work in solving this ethical dilemma. According to Hospers, an action that is likely to maximize total happiness should be embraced at all times. Allowing software piracy to prevail is likely to maximize people’s happiness. This is because they will be able to use the software of choice without incurring any cost. However, this unfolds at a cost to the companies involved with the development of this software. There are massive losses being incurred since there are huge costs involved in the development, but the sales are less. This reduces the profit margins and might result in the closure of some companies (Reynolds, 2015). This applies more to small companies since they do not have the necessary resources to curb this action. Would this be considered as a maximization of total happiness?

Hospers argues that there should not be a preference for immediate happiness as opposed to remote happiness (Ermann & Shauf, 2003). Using the pirated software will bring immediate happiness to the users. However, this might not be the case in future. By using the pirated software, the small companies will make losses and end up closing their businesses. This will only leave the large corporations in the industry. These large corporations have funds to invest in the attempt of preventing piracy for their software. It would mean that access to pirated software will become limited. Most of the users will now have to purchase the original software. Closure of the small companies will result in reduced competition in the industry. This means that the remaining firms might increase their prices due to the reduced supply and increased demand. As a result, the happiness of the consumers associated with software piracy will only prevail in the short-run, but bring negative consequences in the long-run.

Small firms will incur losses that will result to the closure of business, and this reduces competition hence triggering the increase in the price of the original software. This means that consumers will not be happy in the long-run. As a result, the utilitarian theory would work poorly in trying to solve this ethical dilemma.

In conclusion, the information technology arena is filled with numerous dilemmas. The action or inaction in any of the cases is likely to have either negative or positive outcomes.  Hospers believes that an individual is morally obliged to choose an action that will maximize total happiness. This theory can be applicable in solving some of the ethical dilemmas prevalent with information technology. However, it is not applicable in other cases. This is to say that apart from considering the happiness of people while dealing with ethical dilemmas, there are other issues that should be put into consideration. Among them is the consideration of whether the decision made has the ability to remain viable in the long-run. There are some decisions that work very well in the short-run, but detrimental in the long-run. Several aspects should be considered before a conclusion to an ethical dilemma is made.



Ermann, M. D., & Shauf, M. S. (2003). Computers, ethics, and society. New York: Oxford University Press.

Reynolds, G. W. (2015). Ethics in information technology. Australia: Cengage Learning.

Zhang, J. (2011). Ethical Issues in Information Systems. 2011 International Conference of Information Technology, Computer Engineering and Management Sciences.


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