Ethics and Society

Ethics refers to the principals or standards of human conduct that can be used by an individual to make decisions between alternative

courses of action. Ethical choices occur in all lifestyles and typically involve a conflict where one person or group benefits at the

expense of another. Business, for example, is often confronted with the decision to utilize new technology to reduce its workforce and

thereby raise its profits to benefit its shareholders, at the expense of eliminating the jobs of loyal employes who have been with the

company for many years. One could make an argument for either course of action, and indeed there is no right or wrong answer, because

either action might be deemed correct within its own objective.
How then does one make an ethical decision? As with every decision, you begin by identifying the facts – who did (or will do) what to

whom, and where, when, and how was (will it) be done? What are the opposing courses of action and the consequences of each? The

decision maker can then decide which path to follow and which principle or value to apply. He or she may be guided by a professional

code of conduct such as those advocated by the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association. There may also be a clear

legal principle, but as is often the case with new technology the law may not yet exist.
Eventually, however, every ethical choice is a matter of individual conscience. Perhaps the most basic tenet guiding any decision is

the Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. One might also be influenced by ImmanuelKant (1724-1804) who

said that “if an action is not right for everyone, it is not right for anyone”. RenéDescartes (1596–1650) espoused almost the same

philosophy by stating “that while an action might be acceptable initially, it must be repeatable or else it should not be taken at

all”. Nevertheless, ethical decisions are seldom easy because ultimately, we are all human and our self-interest may be in conflict

with established legal or ethical principals.
Our objective is not to preach, but rather to raise your consciousness of ethical issues as the basis for class discussion. Consider

now several situations that require you to render an ethical decision. List the pros and cons for each scenario, and then state the

ethical principle(s) that most influenced your decision.

The Office CD: Your best friend has just purchased a new computer that includes a copy of Microsoft Office 2013. You ask your friend to

borrow the CD in order to install the software on your computer. You are on a strict budget and cannot afford to spend the

approximately $200 the software would cost at the University bookstore. You intend to use the software only for school and will not

benefit from it commercially. You are not hurting anyone and no one other than your friend will even know that you even borrowed the

CD. You are shocked when your friend says no. What reason could he or she have for denying your request?

The Borrowed Home Work Assignment: Your roommate has just come back from a family emergency and has not had time to do the assignment

for today’s class. He or she has asked for your homework in order to copy it and submit it as his or her own. You worked hard and you

know you are going to get an A. Homework is an integral component of the grade in this course and your friend cannot afford to do

poorly in this class. Do you let your friend copy your home work? Would your answer be different if your friend did not have to go home

for the family emergency? What if the situation were reversed? Would you expect your roommate to let you copy his or her home work?

The Honor Code: You would not think of cheating on an exam. You have, however, seen one of your classmates blatantly copying from a

cheat sheet. The student in question is doing poorly in the course and in danger of losing his scholarship if he does not receive a

grade of A. Do you report the incident to the professor? The professor does not grade on a curve so no one else is affected by the

actions of this classmate. On the other hand, are you being fair to the students who studied diligently for the exam yet managed no

better than a C? If you do report the incident can you live with the fact that you were responsible for your classmate failing the

exam, thereby failing the course, and losing a badly needed scholarship?

The $50 Bill:You gave the clerk a $5.00 bill but got change for a $50, resulting in a “wind fall” of approximately $45. Do you keep the

extra money? Does your answer depend on whether it is a small store in which case it is coming directly out of the proprietor’s pocket,

or a large store in which the store would absorb the loss? After all the store can afford it, whereas you really need the money. What

if it was the person ahead of you in line who received change for the $50, when you clearly saw he gave the clerk $5? Would you speak

up without being asked?

Downloading Music from the Web: The Internet has been a great friend to your pocketbook; you haven’t purchased a CD or any other form

of music since the invention of MP3. This may be great for you as a consumer, but imagine that you actually wrote and produced a

particular song, and that your livelihood depends on the funds generated from the sale of that song. Do you still think it is

appropriate to obtain copies of songs for free? What if music fans everywhere decided to stop buying music and simply wait for it to be

uploaded to the Web? What effect would this have on the music industry?


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