Deontology Case Study Example



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Deontology Case Study Examples

In a well-defined sense, Kantian deontology builds on the critical premises of cognitive limits, in which the natural and moral subject matters are inherently difficult or impossible to penetrate. Kant tried to single out free and goodwill as the rare trustworthy layer of a moral substance that simultaneously amounted to the ultimate enforcement mechanism. The present study seeks to apply the categorical imperative and related pillars to a set of cases to enable the observer to prune away sheer absurdity or excesses without overlooking some meta-level implications that render the grand principle an elegant and economical tool.

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Summary Background

Deontology could somewhat loosely be referred to as the study of duty or adherence to whatever ethical codes or standards have been set forth and maintained as a generally accepted institutional underpinning. Needless to say, this domain can hardly be reduced to formal compliance with the law as but one pillar of institutions. In any event, these rules of the game can be enforced using mechanisms, as well as constraints, which may have little to do with personal motives or genuine benevolence. Many a time, such setups are designed to map the otherwise selfish or ill-intended ways into outcomes that are not outright at odds with the public good.

This kind of externality, or posterior and side effects, is not exactly driven by ethics per se even when it is inevitably bordering on the moral hazards or ethical trade-offs. In a sense, this area of causality might pertain to the alternate domain of teleology. This domain could qualify strong-form deontology in the major ways: more so, when it comes to Kantian attempts at reconciling virtue, motives, and consequences using the categorical imperative or the kingdom of ends as the resultant or targeted arrangement (Gregor, 1996, pp. 612-613).

To fully appreciate these overlaps, suffice it to consider the triad of competing paradigms that, along the above lines, constitute the taxonomy of deontology, teleology, and virtue. Whereas teleology focuses on the consequences of one’s deeds or choices beyond the immediate action or intended outcomes, deontology argues that it is a conscious and motivated decision that counts. Although both focus on the action while leaving out the spiritual state as immanent or otherwise revealed in actual moves, they embark on the dual targets or driving forces. One qualifying facet to consider is the possibility that deontology may not deny the importance of consequences or effects.

After all, one of the versions of the categorical imperative insists that one acts to render his or her implied maxim or motive as an implicit ideology, which could be espoused and practiced by the others. It amounts to a meta-level or grand consequence. However, this analogy of the golden rule of prior reciprocity emphasizes the prior motives, as well as adherence to them, in ways that posit both a system and a discipline. The two seemingly distinct facets intertwine elegantly, even though, one may wonder whether the other equivalent of the imperative, in other words, stipulating that one treats others as ends rather than means only, readily follows from the former principle.

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Rather than discarding pragmatic or utilitarian consequentialism altogether, deontology a la Kant may remain wary of partially good things that might ironically accrue to the evil motives and regrettable by-products of acting in bona fide. In any event, insofar as in the modern-day corporate practices, areas such as the due diligence and scrutiny of exercising internal controls under a particular model of governance are believed to make a difference. Scrupulous ways can be thought of as preferred over artificially binding constraints or manipulable incentives. Although largely the same approach to integrity is maintained by the paradigm of virtue, it zooms in on the formation of a good and benevolent persona, whose capability of ushering in good consequences while being driven by righteous motives may take too long awhile and be too far-fetched as an objective for it to be imposed on every agent.

By contrast, Kantian deontology suggests a more realistic and weak-form enterprise of adherence to the duty as an end in itself albeit without arbitrarily positing any particular form of law or regulation as either the superior incentive system or a binding proxy for the inherent duty. It may or may not refer to some kind of ultimate law as an end in itself; yet, it is the goodwill that emerges as the grand good that does not need to invoke any superior cognitive ability for devising moral constructs or ethical codes.

On the second thought, it remains to be seen whether the average type, representative of any particular society, or anyone complying with a reasonable person’s conduct under common law is to be presumed capable of coming to sense a well-intended maxim that could be considered understandable, acceptable, and replicable by everyone else indefinitely long. The prior motive could be seen as the goal, with consistent or systemic compliance counting as a virtue. Nevertheless, this kind of reconciliation may not be enough to conceive a constructive, practical stance on decision making, much less in a business set up with most players not necessarily standing ready for making their best ethical or cognitive effort.

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For better or worse, these same agents’ rationality or optimization can more accurately be predicted or explained in terms of calculating the pleasures and pains. At any rate, this dimension cannot be downright discarded for the call of duty if only because no players are supposed to view themselves as means only. One prior implication that could be seen as a testable hypothesis is that normative dimensions can hardly be expected to dominate or fully inform the positive ones. That is why; compliance with Kantian deontology will likely be partial if any throughout the case studies. On the other hand, utilitarian causes might fail to capture it all, which is where symmetric deontology steps in.

Case Study One: Blood for Sale

There exist two polar or corner-case models: the market-driven one and the other one, which is based on altruistic urges (Shaw & Barry, 2013). Somewhat tentatively, they are considered representative of the U.S. versus the UK dominant practices. Ironic as it might seem, the market for commercial blood transfusion has not secured adequate quality or volumes, as opposed to the not-for-profit design that has shown to be far more scrupulous, as well as pragmatically efficient. A part of the rationale is provided by the philosopher treating blood donations as a gift, the nature of which can vary or prove relativistic and contingent on the recipient’s budget constraints versus his or her actual health condition and the risks or tradeoffs involved. Both dimensions determine the marginal utility of blood donation that can further be weighed against the donating volunteer’s concerns or empathy that may or may not be introspective.

Paradoxically, either model could qualify as compliant with Kantian deontology, in just how willing the donor is to empathize with the recipient by following the rules of the game at both ends. A selfish person willing to sell some of his or her blood for money may stand ready to pay for blood in case of an emergency. Moreover, the fact that up to 90 percent of the population has been engaged in either direct sales or blood bank type swaps might point to the reciprocity rule largely having been accepted and made near-universal. Now, it remains to be considered whether any market equilibrium could count as such. Put simply, most of the players might move far from any price level, to become net sellers or ever to consider a market of the sort, in the first place.

For that matter, it is unclear ex-ante whether those addicts or marginalized strata are at odds with the rationality or free will prerequisite that makes the categorical imperative meaningful. Likewise, tapping into the overseas areas such as the tribal communities (with the resultant profit margins accruing to the go-between acting to compromise the donors’ bare-bones subsistence, let alone discretion when it comes to corrupt arrangements with the tribal heads) would all seem too far at loggerheads with the morality of any kind over either pragmatic or pure duty outcomes. Never mind that some of the tribes might embark on cruelty and utter disregard for human existence or the right to life, still, their failure to appreciate either the ethical trade-offs or alternative terms of trade does not deny them any right to be treated on par when it comes to the basic rights.

On the other hand, it appears that pragmatic cynicism has not ushered in any favorable or superior outcomes other than the excessive rewards the unscrupulous intermediaries have pocketed. Therefore, it is highly dubious whether their ways could be made into general practice or a universal maxim, bearing in mind that even the less rational types should realize that only a minority could enjoy a distribution windfall such as this one. Of course, this pragmatic failure is not supposed to serve as a pragmatic meta-rational behind invoking deontology, even though this marginal switch was discussed in the theoretical section above.

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Along similar lines, the British alternative could posit a success story and a trendsetting opportunity. In it, an altruistic motive that is intuitive enough has seen a spillover in just how it has shaped the mainstream attitude irrespective of how rational or exhaustive that cause has been. Moreover, regardless of whether the society is a bit arrogant in thinking high enough of itself and its altruism to deserve better outcomes allegedly on the strength of its advancement; it is not to detract from the extent and effects of its compliance with the Kantian model. The fact that a mixed strategy in between the corner cases would not work acts to widen the divide while possibly fostering the posterior arrogance that may or may not be deemed as a sterilizing duty-centered virtue.

Case Study Two: Challenger

This story unleashes in hindsight some salient detail on why the infamous space shuttle might never have crashed, and was checked for weather-related or thermal sensitivity on the particular and well-defined modules (Boisjoly, Curtis, & Melican, 1989). The backlash, as envisaged by some members of the engineering team, was so overwhelming that it might have set a rather questionable precedent in its right. However, as far as the deontological implications are concerned, it has yet to be figured out whether the others can be expected to follow suit whenever they may only be willing to pay a differential price at best.

It is unfortunate that the nature of the technical issues involving the O-ring reports would most of the time have left the lay audience unmoved while irritating the stock market in the case of any minor yet sustained failures. It is largely for this reason that the whistle-blowers such as Boisjoly would have been frowned upon ex-post or stay hesitant ex-ante while expecting a cold-shoulder treatment. The flipside of it all is that such major disasters may have been prone to happen because few people learn from the minor incidents or fine and intricate the research evidence that might be too counter-intuitive to impress the decision-makers emotively. Under such circumstances, Boisjoly appears to have gone to great lengths to comply with Kantian deontology or act in ways that can reasonably be replicated even if he had failed to make an all-out effort. The latter refers to his controversial sick leave that might be pointing to a possibility that he was pressured.

A variety of pragmatic what-if scenarios zooming in on the consequences could be suggested without formally referring to absolute or unqualified duty compliance: causes and effects notwithstanding. On the second thought, they are difficult to overlook altogether if only in light of the heavy losses incurred. To begin with, this whistle-blower attempted at acting in ways he would have preferred introspectively, had he been one of the crew otherwise doomed. However, the universality cut-off does not carry over to either the team of engineers or the wider host of those involved and is held liable. The former category cannot share the responsibility symmetrically, or act as a team, the liabilities of which are indiscriminately high. Otherwise, the less apt free-riders would be willing to act as whistle-blowers and diligence abusers alike. On the contrary, Boisjoly blew his whistle bona fide and scrupulously, in that he would have hated to be held liable for either someone else’s faults or his failure to exercise full discretion under duress. Unfortunately, there is little in the way a team play is understood that would keep himself immune against NASA’s propensity to pass it on arguing it was for his omissions just because (or provided that) he was the one responsible for the O-ring part of the technical work.

If the value-at-risk was perceived as too low to justify any further delays or extra budget outlays while putting a lot of jobs at threat, he might or might not have been one of those willing to see it through no matter what, just to stay on board. At the same time, no expert is hedged against the moral hazard of the other experts willingly or, otherwise, pointing to wrong causes or failing to see the additional ones that might interfere with the modules he or she oversees. In other words, he would hardly welcome excessive whistle-blowing, as long as it questions his project involvement or his job as a basic right. Although the right to life may outmatch any other subsistence or property rights, crash costs included, which may be taken with a grain of salt by others while forcing the would-be alarmist to hold at least some of the reports back and prefer others to do the same if need be.

Case Study Three: Hacking into Harvard

Once, the top schools’ online application tracking the system went wrong, in just how spectacularly it failed to secure the utmost confidentiality on its interim routine albeit without any major breach of privacy (Shaw & Barry, 2013). Applicants were able to inquire into their tentative admission status by following a provocateur hackers’ ill-gotten tip. This case raises a few questions on which party was most defective ethically and who was to pay the higher price.

The categorical imperative could be applied dually by studying the competing agendas. On the part of the more eligible applicants facing the best odds of getting in, it may have been most irrational to compromise their comparative advantage, even though their conduct, mimicked by many or most, would hardly ever trigger any irreversible damage over and above moral or reputation losses accruing to academia at large. From the admission committee’s viewpoint, any strategy is hard to imagine as forcing anyone to follow suit if only because there are not too many fellow admission committees to choose from or to interact with one another. It has to be qualified by pointing out that the star schools’ admissions offices are inherently more competitive, with rivalry subsiding for the average ranking colleges. It is anything but obvious that a hard-line stance would pay off just handsomely in terms of school goodwill.

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The imperative could embark on the more straightforward implications by referring to the quality of the software. Whether or not that hacker had a plot of seeing many rival candidates screw their tests, or was hired by the schools as a matter of laying out an ethical experiment, it is unclear why the Business Week portal’s IT team had overlooked the inappropriate content or failed to act upon it by (never) making it known to the Ivy League’s webmasters. Unless conceived as a part of the experiment, all of that was definitely at odds with the categorical imperative. By the same token, even if the schools had conspired to administer implicit ethical tests to their would-be applicants, it was not even a random sample; hence, it has nothing to say about the graduates’ ways or integrity attitudes. At best, posterior harshness would shape the exogenous incentives without necessarily cherishing unqualified and duty-centric conscience from within.

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Case Study Four: Wal-Mart

The largest retailer has long been renowned for its cost-efficiency building on a large and growing scale of operations and translating into low prices (Shaw & Barry, 2013). Its aggressive stance as an all-time low bidder has put pressure on vendors and suppliers to an extent that forced host communities to lose their nerve and identity. Wal-Mart’s conservative and content censoring MVV (mission, vision, and values) may not have garnered the buy-in of left-wing liberals, yet it clearly illustrates the Marxian admonishing forecasts holding that monopolies, concerned with the cost efficiency at the expense of underpaying their employees, will soon have ushered in a major dual gap with the supply side increasingly outmatching the effective demand (Blaug, 1999, pp. 255-272).

A conservative track that Wal-Mart has entertained fits squarely into the schizophrenic and old-hat hypocrisy of matching firearms with no-no censorship. That said, the Wal-Mart shareholders may genuinely believe in the goodness of the underpinning values or the way they are construed while acting upon their faith in bona fide. Likewise, the company’s customers or buyers reveal a similar outlook through self-selection. Put differently, they may be willing to accept a reduced variety, as well as the vanishing of the bulk of their communities’ once-endemic businesses or value channels, as a matter of wishing for others to enjoy a similar setup. Formally, either perspective appears in line with the categorical imperative, even though, the choice is catalyzed by an excessive market share versus extra savings, respectively.

Case Study Five: The Sadhu Parable

The dilemma emerges as a generalization of a particular travel incident, which stumbled into ethical complexity, so intense it took many strands and levels of analysis to come to terms with what had constituted the onlookers’ mature views. In essence, there is an apparent clash between individual ethical choice as opposed to group morality (McCoy, 1997), the agenda of which extends far beyond the conventional coalition formation based on bargaining, or coordination failure due to high agency costs, in any event.

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None of the group members in the said setup seemed to be standing ready to trade off their grand objective, or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for the utmost ethical fitness. One moral trick would be to believe that the group goals or organizational objectives and values are the target or criterion to be met insofar as the categorical imperative amounts to either duty spotlight or universal reciprocity. At the same time, the narrator does appear to second the initially proposed point about the fitness criterion being defined from within as the motive force rather than an exogenous and arbitrary concern. In particular, group morality in hands-on setups may have to be resolved in an ad-hoc yet replicable manner, even though it remains to be judged whether the stress pressure acts to stupefy or foster contingent ethical decision-making.

Unfortunately, no one is in a position to expect others to exercise the relevant cognitive or pragmatic faculties as one would have liked or set as a standard. Nor can one safely manipulate the self-reference bias in a cross-cultural setting. The recurring issue is again about the limits of one’s leeway to expect or force others to pay a price without necessarily perceiving the same goodness as the outcomes or duty.

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