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ETHICS – 09 (Brijendra Singh)


Visit a hospital/ orphanage/ old-age home Empathy, Compassion, Gratitude, Respect
for life
Visit a monument/museum Pride, Patriotism, Secularism
Visit a national park/trek/ wildlife Respect for nature, Environmental sensitivity
Read about the lives of great personalities Fortitude, Discipline, Sacrifice, Humility,
Spirit of Service
Sports Strive for excellence, self-belief, positivity,
team spirit, discipline, decision making


Although it may not be possible to resolve an ethical dilemma in a perfect manner, individuals
and institutions will have to take a decision in such situations. Such a decision must be based on
a reasonable justification for choosing one course of action over another. As such, there are five
broad approaches that can be considered, each with a fundamental justification but also a
corresponding limitation. While taking a decision, one or a combination of these approaches can
be used. The more the number of approaches satisfied in a decision, the closer it comes to being

1. The Utilitarian Approach:

This approach believes that an ideal decision should produce the greatest good or the least harm
for the greatest number i.e. it creates the greatest balance of good over harm. As such, it offers a
relatively easy, numerical justification for choosing one course of action over another. This
approach is especially useful in situations where multiple groups have competing claims. For
instance, it can be used to justify forced displacements, preventive detention, torture and even
capital punishment.

However, this approach suffers three basic problems:

i) It can be used to justify unwise, populist decisions. Even worse, it can be used to
justify unfair means such as deception, lies, coercion etc.
ii) It may not always be possible to accurately calculate the costs and benefits involved
in a decision e.g. the value of life, art, human dignity etc.

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iii) It is inherently ends-based and does not allow for adequate scope for considering the
means being employed. As a result, it may overlook concerns regarding justice,
liberties, dignity and rights.

2. The Rights Approach:

This approach believes that an ideal decision is one that best protects and respects the rights of
all the stakeholders. It is based on the belief that all humans (and even animals) have certain
inviolable rights that must be preserved. Therefore, they have a right to be treated as ends and
not merely as means to other ends.

However, this approach may sometimes over-emphasise the individual at the expense of the
system. There may be situations where the social or economic costs that result from upholding an
individual’s rights may be too high. In such situations, the rights of an individual may need to be
reasonably restricted for larger public welfare e.g. the suspension of even fundamental rights
during an emergency.

3. The Justice Approach:

This approach states that equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally. In other
words, individuals should be treated as the same unless they differ in ways that are relevant to
the situation in which they are involved. For instance, affirmative action is based upon the desire
to provide disadvantaged sections an equal platform.

However, determining what constitutes a just decision is not easy. An element of subjectivity is
unavoidable, making it difficult to arrive at standardised and quantitative parameters e.g. wage
determination, assignment of duties and responsibilities etc.

4. The Common Good Approach:

This approach believes that an ideal decision is one which promotes general conditions that are
equally to everyone’s advantage i.e. a decision that serves the entire system and not just certain
sections. The utility of this approach is especially high in areas where social participation is
important, such as in promoting peace, environmental concerns, public hygiene, demilitarisation,
tax compliance etc.

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However, in a diverse system of individuals and nations, determining what would constitute a
common good is not easy. There is also the problem of the “free-rider”, referring to those who
want to enjoy the benefits of the common good but are unwilling to contribute. Further,
promoting common welfare may require individuals or nations to share burdens unequally or to
make sacrifices.

5. The Virtue Approach:

This approach believes that an ideal decision should be consistent with the highest humanitarian
values and principles such as honesty, loyalty, courage, compassion, sacrifice etc. This promotes
not only the individuals long-term welfare but also multiplies into overall social welfare. In other
words, this approach is based upon the belief that the good of the individual is contained in the
good of all.

However, the fundamental problem is that this approach depends upon self-direction, self-
regulation and a strong moral character. When individuals, societies or nations do not have a
strong character and an internal locus of control, they are vulnerable to external stimulus. In such
circumstances, implementing this approach is extremely difficult.

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