Luke, an employee of ABC company, starts the land development project to build an adult
entertainment retail store. After the news about this store construction makes public, the price
of the neighborhood property will decrease significantly. Luke’s brother Owen doubts
whether to sell his house located in the same area. In one month, the information will be
Luke should decide whether he should disclose the info about the construction of the adult
entertainment retail store to Owen.
Two theories will be applied to analyze this ethical dilemma: Utilitarianism and Universal
Ethics (Kant’s categorical imperative). Utilitarianism is one of the consequentialist ethical
theories. It implies that the action is morally right when it produces the most good
(happiness) to the largest number of people. In other words, an act of the person must bring
the maximum utility and minimize harm (Trevino & Nelson 40). This theory evaluates the
consequences of moral action. However, this is its biggest weakness. It is difficult to estimate
the actual consequences of the moral deed because it will happen in the future. Moreover, its
core goal is to maximize happiness, but there is a question of whether happiness is the sole
ultimate good (Wolff 197). The strength of this theory is that the person considers the
interests of others and tries to maximize the benefits for them by acting ethically.
Universal Ethics in the form of the Kantian categorical imperative is the opposite direction to
Utilitarianism. It represents the deontological direction of ethical theory (Deigh 140).
According to Kant, a person must act according to the universal laws disregarding his/her
wants or circumstances. The principle of universality of moral deeds prevails. Thus, by
choosing the particular action, the person believes that other people will behave the same
way, so universal laws exist (Trevino & Nelson 44). There is no self-serving deed because
the good act is that one that can become universal law for everyone. Therefore, there is no
place for acting by pursuing self-interest. The weakness of this theory is that circumstances
are not taken into regard, for instance, the example of a white lie, when a person lies to save
someone, and similar cases. The strength of this theory is that it is duty-driven and creates an
order in the society when everyone expects that there are moral laws that everyone should
respect. It also implies rational thinking and asking whether a person rationally will that any
other person act as he/she is going to behave.
The logical conclusions based on these two theories are the following. If to apply
Utilitarianism, Luke must consider the consequences of his decision to tell Owen about the
construction plans and try to maximize good for larger number of people. He will maximize
Owen’s good and nurture relationships between brothers if he tells him. However, as any
secret earlier or later becomes evident, Owen may tell someone about the construction plan.
Competitors may initiate similar construction and outperform the ABC company. As a result,
the company will suffer significant losses. It is a high chance that Luke will be fired. On the
contrary, if Luke keeps the secret, the retail store will be constructed, the company’s revenues
will grow, employees involved in the project may receive a bonus. Thus, the maximal good is
produced under the second decision.
If to apply Kantian imperative, Luke should consider his actions as those that can become
universal laws. Thus, if he is going to tell Owen about the construction plans, he should
expect that everyone in the organization will follow this universal law. Every employee will
tell confidential information to their friends, relatives, etc. By being a rational human being,
Luke must understand that such a scenario is not possible. There is a duty of nondisclosure of
confidential business information being the company’s intellectual property. Luke will act in
own interests and interests of the outsider, his brother, instead of pursuing the obligations to
his employer. If Luke does not tell Owen about the construction plan, he expects other
employees to keep confidential information inside the company. Thus, disclosing confidential
information will not be tolerated.
As Luck is an employee at ABC, he should prioritize the interests of his employer over
personal interests. Therefore, he should strictly follow the duty to keep insider information
confidential. In this case, Universal Ethics, in particular Kantian categorical imperative, is
superior to Utilitarianism. Luke’s case should be treated from the position of deontological
ethics, not consequentialism. Luke has its professional duties that employment at ABC
implies. He should carry out his obligations before the company to defend the organization’s
business reputation and its financial performance. Therefore, it is recommended to keep the
plans about the construction secret and not tell Owen any single word about them. He should
not think from the position of consequences, either negative for Owen if he does not tell the
news about construction or negative for the company if the confidential information became
known earlier than the company had announced it. He should decide on his moral action from
the position of universal law.
To conclude, despite the situation that both theories recommend keeping the information
secret, Universal Ethics is more applicable to the relationships between employer and
employee. In this case, the employee is obliged to follow universal laws adopted in the
company, particularly the requirement to keep internal information confidential.
Deigh, John. An Introduction to Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Trevino, Linda, and Katerine Nelson. Managing Business Ethics: Straight Talk About How
To Do It Right. Wiley, 2017.
Wolff, Jonathan. An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. W. W. Norton & Company, 2020.
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