After President Bill Clinton got involved in a love affair with Lewinsky, people had mixed reactions about the affair. At the time of the scandal, Lewinsky worked as an intern in the White House. Her perceived friend at the time, Tripp, had been recording phone conversations between Clinton and her. It later emerged that the two had an affair, which led to a court suit and later prompted the President to be impeached. Although at first, Clinton denied the charges, he later admitted that he was involved in an affair with Lewinsky and made a public apology.
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Lewinsky’s scandal attracted a lot of attention since it involved an intern in the White House and a sitting president. Another factor that made the scandal attract many opinions from the public was the fact that the president was a married man (Pierce, Byrne, & Aguinis, 1996). The scandal involved morality and ethics, and this paper will discuss three principals of ethics held by different people in relation to the scandal.
One famous ethicist was Kant. Born in 1724 in Germany, Kant became a formidable philosopher. He came up with the Kantian Ethics theory, which states that; one should do well as an obligatory duty or responsibility, instead of relying on the end goal, or any emotions attached to the act. Kant believed that one performed an action based on obligations.
Utilitarianism seems to disregard the importance of moral elements like individual rights, human dignity, and the protection of minority views. According to utilitarian theory, all things are converted to happiness or pleasure, and this gives leeway for maximizing overall happiness. The theory is much concerned with the happiness of the greater majority and tends to neglect the views of the minority, who also deserve to be respected. According to this theory, any action is regarded as a right if it results in the happiness of the majority in society.
Non-consequentiality theory evaluates whether an action is right or wrong. This is based on properties that are fundamental to the action, but not on the consequences. Contractarianism and libertarianism are good examples of the theory. Contractarianism dictates that any action that may cause harm and whose value may be considered uncompensated should not be allowed. On the other hand, libertarianism suggests that people should be given the freedom to do what they feel is right.
These theories are different and, therefore, are differently used in explaining Lewinsky’s scandal. If Kant handled the case, he would have used his ethical theory to assess the situation, as well as the repercussions emanating from the actions. Since his theory is based on what one is supposed to do irrespective of the consequences, it would have been an enthralling case to handle. As long as one is led into doing good by a certain obligation, the said action should be performed irrespective of the consequences (Shaw, 2010, p. 63). There has to be a duty to do right, which should be implemented. It is thus probable that Kant’s theory would not have been sufficient for the case. This is because it does not show the presence of an obligatory duty for Lewinsky’s actions. She was at liberty of doing the right thing even if it caused unhappiness to Clinton. She knew that Clinton was a married man, yet she continued with the affair.. According to Kant’s ethical theory, she was wrong with her actions.
If, on the other hand, Kant’s ethical theory is used to assess the case, Clinton was wrong. This is because; there was no obligatory duty driving Clinton to get involved in an affair with Lewinsky. He never upheld ethics in the workplace (Donaldson & Dunfee, 1994).
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Kant’s theory states that; a person is compelled to do right because it is an obligation. Clinton did not have to betray his wife. This was what was supposed to be done, even if those actions could have hurt Lewinsky. Another reason that could have found Clinton guilty of Kant’s theory is the fact that Clinton lied. According to Kant’s theory, telling a lie is highly prohibited, irrespective of the circumstances. When Clinton was answering against charges of the affair, he denied the fact that he had a relationship with Lewinsky. This is despite the fact that there were tapped phone calls of his conversation with Lewinsky. Only much later did Clinton come to admit about the affair and gave a public apology. Kant’s theory is absolute on lying, and Clinton had gone against the theory. He had broken the law, and Kant would have found him guilty. Kant proceeds to explain what makes an act right. If an act can be used as a universal law, then it is right (Shaw, 2010, p. 62). Not all people could accept the scandal by Lewinsky as a normal happening in the universe. This is because the act was between a young employee and a married man. Universal law has to be accepted by everybody, and if not, then it is not right. Revisiting the scandal, not everybody would like her husband to be involved in an affair with another woman, whether young or old. Since not everybody would like such a scenario, the actions were not right. For this reason, therefore, according to Kant’s ethical theory, the relationship between Lewinsky and Clinton was morally wrong.
Utilitarianism theory seems to disregard the views of other people and concentrates on the happiness of the majority (Shaw, 2010, p. 57). This means that one’s actions, which can pass the test of ethics, have to result to the happiness of a larger group of people. On the contrary, the result should not be celebrated by the individuals performing the action but should be of immense benefit to a larger mass. By trying to define utilitarianism, the theory’s founders, Mill and Bentham, argued that the ultimate goal of utilitarianism was to produce or elevate happiness. If the result of an act did not increase the larger majority’s happiness, that action was not to be encouraged. Another explanation from the ethicists was that if an act brought happiness for one party while causing pain to another party, the act did not qualify to be utilitarian.
Lewinsky’s actions were not meant to add joy or happiness to the great public. On the contrary, her actions brought joy to herself and not to a greater population. The results of her actions with Clinton brought much pain, especially to the family members of Clinton. Having to hear all that was happening in the affair brought pain to the family members. This is contrary to utilitarian ethics, which call for, the joy of the greater multitude. Therefore, going by utilitarian theory, Lewinsky and Clinton’s actions were contrary to the expectations of the theory, since they were the beneficiaries of their actions.
Non-consequentialist theory states that the nature of an action dictates its morality and not the consequences. There are two branches of non-consequential theory, namely; contractarianism and libertarianism. Having the scandal in mind and going by the main definition of a non-consequential theory, Lewinsky’s relationship scandal was contrary to the theory. The theory is much concerned with the inherent properties of the act itself and not the consequences. The act itself was wrong as it involved an affair between a young woman and a married man, who was expected to uphold high moral standards as a leader. Non-consequentialist theory takes into consideration the inherent factors of the action (Shaw, 2010, p. 49). The mere act of having an affair was morally wrong, irrespective of the additional consequences.
The case against Lewinsky attracted a lot of attention from the media and the public at large. This was because the scandal involved a sitting president. The scandal became a discussion in the country as it meant that the president was going to face impeachment. There was need to uphold ethics in the workplace irrespective of the situation (Wempe, 2008). The scandal led to ethical issues especially on the willingness of leaders to uphold work place ethics. Upholding ethics is a prerequisite in any department in the work place and it is, therefore, shocking to witness the highest office in the land going against ethical values that the citizens are supposed to uphold.
Donaldson, T., & Dunfee, T.W. (1994). Toward a unified conception of business ethics: Integrative social contracts theory. Academy of Management Review, 19 (2), 252-284.
Pierce, C. A., Byrne, D., & Aguinis, H. (1996). Attraction in organizations: a model of workplace romance. Journal of Organizational Behavior 17, 5-32.
Shaw, W. H. (2010). Business Ethics: A textbook with cases. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Wempe, B. (2008). Contraction Business Ethics: Credentials and Design Criteria. Organization Studies 29 (10), 1337-1355.