Company’s Utilitarian Ethics and Utility Test Steps

Abstract

Utilitarianism is an ethical model of reasoning which emphasizes on the maximization of good and happiness and the minimization of the reverse of happiness. The transistor company is confronted with the ethical issue of choosing to stop the supply of transistors to the heart pacemakers company and or supplying the transistors and risking the lives of patients. This paper applies the utility test derived from utilitarianism and the rights test on a case study of a transistor company. At the end is a comparison of the two tests and the test which I find more information and why.

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Key utilitarian ethical problems confronting the Transistor Company

Utilitarianism is an ethical model of reasoning which emphasizes on the maximization of good and happiness and the minimization of the reverse of happiness and good. The transistor company is confronted with the ethical issue of choosing to stop the supply of transistors to the heart pacemakers company and or supplying the transistors and risking the lives of patients.

The company’s board of directors is split over the issue of supply of transistors to the company which makes heart pacemakers. The board members feel that they have the obligation of preventing those deaths by stopping the supply of the transistors given that theirs is the only company that is still in the business of making the transistors (Driver, 2009).

The company is also confronted with the issue of breaching the contract is entered into with the company which makes the heart pacemakers. If it stops supplying the transistors, it will go against the business ethics of remaining committed and trustworthy to its stakeholders (Shanks, 1996). This would also push the company which makes the heart pacemakers out of business which would not only affect the company but also those patients who survive by the use of the heart pacemakers (Scarre, 1996).

The advice of Jeremy Bentham to the Transistor Company

Jeremy Bentham would have advised the company not to stop the supply of the transistors to the heart pacemakers company. One of the reasons is that it is not the transistors per se which caused the deaths but the use of every week specs to test the transistors. According to him, the company ought not to have stopped the supply since doing so would put the lives of many people in danger, which would be unethical on the part of the transistor company. His argument would be that the focus should be on the general good not on a few isolated cases of failure of the heart pacemakers. Since the number of deaths does not outweigh the lives saved by the use of the heart pacemakers, then the company should continue with the supply.

Bentham was of the view that the focus of our actions was to maximize happiness and minimize pain. According to him, therefore, the best actions were those which maximized happiness for as many people as possible while minimizing the pain suffered by the few who were affected. Since the problem was not more to do with the transistors but the specs used to test them; Bentham would have advised the heart pacemakers company to invest more in making or purchasing of very strong specs so as to minimize instances of using faulty transistors in the heart pacemakers.

The Utility Test steps A to D

Step A: Introduction of the test

The test is introduced in the case by posing the question of whether the actions of the transistor company were maximizing well while minimizing pain or harm for those who were affected by the actions. In introducing the test, the guiding principle is the consequences of the action of stopping or not stopping the supply of the transistors. This is the basis for determining whether the action was right or wrong. We should attempt to qualify the outcome based on whether it produces happiness or pain and by use of other indicators such as money and the preferences of those involved (Hamilton, 2012).

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If the outcome is qualified on the basis of preferences, then the action of supplying the transistors to the heart pacemakers company was good because the patients preferred the use of the heart pacemakers to save their lives. They had also paid for the same and therefore stopping the supply would have gone against their preferences.

Step B: Validity of utility test

The utility is indeed a valid criterion to qualify actions as right or wrong. This is so because each and every one of us wants to be happy at all times and to avoid unhappiness at all times (Hamilton, 2012). Also, everyone is equal to the other, and therefore, what is ethical to one person should be ethical to all people. The good outcome is therefore construed as that which results in maximum happiness and minimal unhappiness (Schofield, 2006).

Step C: Application of the test

Step 1: Alternative actions and stakeholders to be affected

The first alternative is for the heart pacemakers company to invest more in the procurement of very strong specs for testing the transistors. The stakeholders affected are the company and the patients.

The second alternative is to stop the supply of the transistors to the heart pacemakers company. This would affect the company which makes the transistors.

The third alternative is for the transistor company to ignore the deaths and move on with the supply of the transistors as usual. Those affected by this alternative would be the patients who use heart pacemakers.

The fourth option is for the transistor company to invest in more research so as to produce transistors that are not capable of malfunctioning during their use. The company which makes the transistors would be affected as well as the company which makes the heart pacemakers.

Step 2: Benefits and costs of the above alternatives to those affected

The benefit of the first alternative is that the transistors would not malfunction during their use because they would be thoroughly tested using very strong specs to detect those which are faulty. The other benefit would go to the patients because they would no longer die as a result of the failure of the heart pacemakers. The costs comprise increased medical costs on the part of the patients and higher cost of production on the part of the heart pacemakers company. The benefit of the second alternative is that the transistor company would avoid any lawsuit resulting from the transistor supply deal. The costs are that it would lose the profits which it gets from the supply of the transistors. On the part of the patients, they would die because the heart pacemakers would not be made without the transistors.

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The benefit of the third alternative is that patients would not die because the transistors would be available. The costs would be on the part of the heart pacemakers company because it would invest a lot of resources in making high-quality specs.

The benefit of the fourth alternative is that the patients would not die due to the failure of the heart pacemakers because the manufacturers would have made transistors of high quality. The cost for the alternative is the increase in the cost of production on the part of the company and increased medical costs on the part of the patients.

Step 3: The action with the greatest benefits over costs

According to utilitarianism, for an action to be considered as morally correct, it must have benefits that outweigh the costs by the biggest margin possible (Hruschka, 1991). In the case presented, the most expensive cost is death resulting from the failure of the heart pacemakers due to faulty transistors. The action with the least costs is the investment by the two companies to ensure that the heart pacemakers do not malfunction.

Step 4: If the action were to become a policy

The selection of the action should be done in a careful manner because such an action once selected is deemed to be a universal policy in certain situations. The investment by the two companies in the improvement of the heart pacemakers has no problem if it becomes policy for all similar situations. Through a policy guideline, all companies which procure gadgets for saving the lives of people should be compelled to produce high-quality products.

Step D: Conclusion

The action of the production of high-quality gadgets and equipment for the health care sector has been selected in the two stages above. This, therefore, becomes an ethical action in the field of health care because it produces the maximum good and minimal harm for all the stakeholders in the health care sector at the present and in the future.

The Rights Test

Step A: Introduction to the test

This is guided by the question of whether a course of action respects human rights or not. Every human being is endowed with certain inalienable rights and entitlements. The rights and entitlements underscore the importance of treating all human beings with dignity, fairness, and equality irrespective of their cultural backgrounds. These rights and entitlements are supported by strong reasons and legal basis at national and international levels.

Step B: Validity of the criterion of the right

The rights criterion is a valid one in qualifying actions as right or wrong. Rights have to do with doing justice to everyone irrespective of his or her extrinsic value. The criterion is based on the intrinsic value of life and social justice. Every human being is entitled to all good things and deeds which are just. No human being qualifies for more rights than others because all human beings are equal. The criterion of rights is also based on the reasoning that rights should be respected and protected. In other words, actions should be considered so as to ensure that they do not infringe on people’s rights even if the actions are of benefit to the whole society (Schneewind, 1977).

Step C: Application of the test

Step 1: The right being violated

In the case of the transistor company, the right being violated is the right to health care which falls under the category of welfare rights.

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Step 2: Why the right to health care deserves the status of a right

It deserves this status because it is an essential component of a person’s well being. The malfunctioning of the heart pacemakers due to faulty transistors leads to loss of life by patients which deny them the right to life despite the fact that they pay for the services.

Step 3: Whether the right to health care conflicts with other rights

This right seems to be in conflict with the right to affordable health care. When the companies invest more in the heart pacemakers, this would lead to an increase in the cost of health care making it unaffordable to many especially the poor and those whose governments do not provide health care insurance. However, in my view, the right to health care is more important than the right to affordable health care. It is therefore not good to dismiss the use of the heart pacemakers simply on grounds of costs because doing so would lead to more unhappiness than happiness.

Step D: Conclusion

The rights principle applies in this case in that it brings out the need to protect health care rights even if it means incurring more costs by investing in health care infrastructure (Raphael, 1969).

Comparison of the two tests

Both tests focus on the end result or outcome of an action. They both focus on upholding and protecting the overall good for everyone. They also use the same procedure that is; introduction, validation, application, and conclusion. They differ in that while the utility test focuses on protecting all the stakeholders, the rights test focuses on protecting the right of one stakeholder (the patient’s right to health care). The utility test is more informative than the rights test because it offers several options for maximizing the good of all the stakeholders while the rights test only focuses on pursuing the rights of a single stakeholder. It is also based on the assumption that the end justifies the means, meaning that so long as the end is good, people should not worry much about the means since the overall objective is to realize good results.

References

Driver, J. (2009). The History of Utilitarianism. Web.

Hamilton, J.B. (2012). Utility test- Best outcomes, how to use the best outcomes or utility test. Web.

Hruschka, J. (1991). “The Greatest Happiness Principle and Other Early German Anticipations of Utilitarian Theory,” Utilitas, 3: 165-77.

Raphael, D. D. (1969). British Moralists. London: Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Scarre, G. (1996). Utilitarianism. New York, NY: Routledge.

Shanks, T. (1996). The Case of the Sole Remaining Supplier. Web.

Schneewind, J. B. (1977). Sidgwick’s Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Schofield, P. (2006). Utility and Democracy: the Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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