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Cagayan State University

Office of the Vice-President for Academic Affairs


Addressing Moral Dilemmas


Chair, Department of Social Sciences & Philosophy
College of Arts & Sciences
Cagayan State University


Moral dilemma occurs when there is uncertainty or perplexity in

selecting the best choice of action between two or more unfavorable options.
In laymen’s words, we are caught in a moral dilemma when we are forced to
choose between two “necessary evils”.

The laymen’s rule, when forced to choose between two evils, choose
the lesser one, is of no practical use because choosing the lesser one can by
itself proves to be very confusing: choices can be both greater and lesser
evils at the same time. For instance, let us assume that I love both my
parents very much. Now, if, for instance, I am forced to save only one (say,
both of them needs a kidney transplant and my kidney is compatible for both
of them) whom am I going to save – my father or my mother?

Choosing whom to save would be very difficult that I might even

choose not to choose at all.

However, moral dilemma is not simply about conflict of possible

choices – like simply choosing between saving your mother or father,
between lying and telling the truth, etc., but rather, it is essentially about
conflicts of obligation.

To take another example, between saving my daughter’s life by

stealing my neighbor’s goods and respecting other’s right to their property at
the expense of failing to save my daughter’s life, there exists in me a conflict
of obligation towards my daughter and my neighbor. I have an obligation to
save my daughter but I also have an obligation to respect the rights of my
neighbor over his property. The choice which obligation to observe and which
to ignore determines my choice of action: to steal and save my daughter but
at the same time to disrespect my neighbor’s rights, or not to steal and
respect my neighbor’s rights over his property.

What makes moral dilemma different with other difficult problems (like
solving a geometrical problem) is the test it gives to the moral character, or
to the integrity, of human beings as decision makers. Moral dilemma messes

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up a person’s obligation to his family, to his community, to his religion, and
finally to the entire humanity to which he belongs.

Fortunately, Moral Theories are tools which moral agents could use in
diffusing even the most difficult moral dilemma.

Remember that good acts stem from good decisions, and good
decisions are usually the fruits of a careful decision-making. If we make our
decisions poorly, it is expected that we will act badly. Since we are held
responsible over our actions and their consequences, we therefore need to
make our decisions more carefully. We must be prudent to make the right

Making the right decision during life’s most difficult moments could be
helped by the use of Moral Theories.

On the next section we will begin our study of the two major types of
moral theories: Kantian Ethics and Utilitarian Ethics. First I will discuss the
main features of these two types of theories and then I will show how they
are applied in solving real life cases. Towards the end of the paper, we will try
to uncover the standard which we could use in determining which between
the two theories should be adopted.


The most important Nonconsequentialist or Deontological ethical theory is

the Kantian Ethics, developed and popularized by the German philosopher
Immanuel Kant.

Although strongly influenced by the Protestant Christian tradition, and despite

the fact that Kant himself was a devout Christian, Kantian Ethics describes morality
in a way which, in its broadest outlines, many atheists have found appealing
(Warburton: 1992, p.39).

The defining feature of the Kantian Ethics is its claim for unconditional
morality. For Kant, morality is a system of absolute commands to act in certain
ways, that is, morality is a system of categorical imperatives or unyielding rules of
human conduct. If performing an act is a matter of duty, then we should do it
regardless of the consequence. If, on the other hand, we are prohibited by duty not
to perform a certain act, then we should never do it, again, regardless of the

Kant believed that as rational human beings we have certain duties. These
duties are categorical, in other words they are absolute and unconditional – duties
such as “you ought always to tell the truth” or “you ought never to kill anyone”.
They apply whatever consequences might follow from obeying them (Ibid, p.41). If
stealing, for instance, is wrong – then one should never steal regardless of the
gravity of the need that makes one thinks of stealing.

Although the Kantian imperatives (or moral rules) are absolute, they are not
laid down arbitrarily by anyone. They are laws discovered by reason and by which
reason unconditionally binds itself. Kant contrasts categorical duties (or duties we
ought to do unconditionally) with hypothetical ones. Hypothetical duties tell you

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what you ought or ought not do if you want to achieve or avoid a certain goal. A
hypothetical duty is therefore merely a conditional duty. For instance, “if I want
more customers, then I ought to be more honest in my dealings with them” or “if I
want to be trusted, then I ought to tell the truth.”

But for Kant, moral duties are never hypothetical: “I ought to be honest
regardless whether or not honesty brings me more customers” or “I should always
tell the truth regardless whether or not in doing so I will be trusted.” Acting
honestly and telling the truth are things we ought to perform because we have
unconditional duties to be honest and to tell the truth: “I ought to be honest and I
ought to be truthful because it is the right thing to do –or simply put, it is my duty to
be so.” But how do we precisely know if an act is our duty to perform or not? The
Kantian Ethics provides two principles or formulas to guide us in determining our
categorical duties: the Principle of Universalizability and the Principle of Humanity.

Section 2.1. Principle of Universalizability

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time
will that it should become a universal law”.

This principle declares that we have a duty to do only those actions whose
maxims (i.e. underlying reasons) we are willing to let other people use to justify the
same proposed actions in similar circumstances. This principle is usually employed
using two simple tests: Contradiction in Conception Test and The Reversalizability

Section 2.1.1. Contradiction in Conception Test.

This test requires that the maxim of a proposed action should not contradict
itself once it is conceived as a universal law of conduct. In short, an action is a
categorical duty we ought to perform, if we like the resulting state of affairs once its
maxim is universalized, that is, if we don’t mind other people do it all at the same
time. This test follows four simple steps:

1. Determine the maxim of your proposed course of action. Remember that

a “maxim” refers to the subjective reason underlying an act which is
presented in a law-like form (“to always do action X when you are in
circumstances Y);

2. Imagine a hypothetical world where all people perform the maxim all at
the same time.

3. Decide if the resulting state of affairs in such an imaginary world is

desirable. In other words, if you would like the imagined state of affairs
actually happen in the real world.

4. If your answer in step three is yes, then it would be fine to do your

proposed action. If the answer is no, then it is your categorical duty
never to perform it regardless of the consequence.

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Mr. Doe is a very loving father. A widow, his world revolves around his only
child, little angel Jane. Too poor to be educated, Mr. Doe supported himself
and his daughter by working as a small-time sidewalk vendor. One night he
found little Jane terribly sick. He knew that his meager savings couldn’t allow
him to buy even the cheapest medicine, much more, to bring his daughter to
the nearest hospital. But Mr. Doe is aware that his daughter will die, just like
what happened to his wife, if he does not do anything. “I lost my wife because
I didn’t have the money, Mr. Doe thought, now I will not allow to lose my
daughter for the same reason”. Mr. Doe went to the kitchen and got the rusty
bread knife, which for ages has waited for a bread to cut. He kissed little Jane
goodbye and he braved the darkness of the night. Soon Mr. Doe quietly stands
hidden in a dark corner, blankly looking at the dim-lighted pharmacy.
Because he is not a born criminal, Mr. Doe is still in his senses asking himself
if stealing is the right thing to do. It is not his plan to steal money – he just
want to have enough amounts of those precious medicines to save her ailing
daughter. If you are Mr. Doe, will you steal?


Applying the Contradiction in Conception Test, we have the first step of

identifying Mr. Doe’s maxim. What Mr. Doe wants are some medicines for her
gravely sick daughter. Since he does not have the money to buy them, he is
thinking about stealing them. Thus, we formulate the following as his possible
maxim: “To always steal when you are too poor to buy what you want”.

The second step of the Contradiction in Conception Test is to imagine a

hypothetical world where all people perform this maxim all at the same time. Here, I
realize immediately that the resulting state of affairs will be chaotic – nobody,
including me (who proposes the maxim) could guarantee that my act (i.e. stealing)
will do me good. Because assuming that I have successfully stolen what I wanted,
the things I have stolen might yet be again stolen from me by others, who, because
of my universalized maxim of stealing, are also allowed to steal from me. My own
maxim of stealing will itself disallow me to achieve the purpose why I steal in the
first place!

The third step of the Contradiction in Conception Test requires us to decide if

the resulting state of affairs in the imaginary world is desirable. Because I cannot
possibly attain the purpose why I steal in an imaginary world where all people steal
each other’s property all at the same time, it is clear that this chaotic state of affair,
which is brought by universalizing my maxim of stealing, is completely undesirable.

And because I cannot will my universal maxim of stealing to become a

universal law, following the fourth step of the Contradiction in Conception Test, if I
am Mr. Doe, I am therefore duty bound not to steal regardless of the consequence.

Section 2.1.2. The Reversalizability Test

Aside from the contradiction in conception test, another way of employing the
Principle of Universalizability is to evaluate proposed action through the

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reversalizability test.
This test basically asks one simple question: “Will I want other people do my
proposed action to me?”, if we like the idea of other people doing the act, which we
proposed to do (or the act we just did), to ourselves, then it would be fine doing it,
but if, we don’t, then it is our duty never to perform it.
The test tells us to imagine reversing the situation – whereby we, the “doer”
of the proposed act, becomes the imagined “receiver” of the act, while the receiver
of our proposed act becomes the imagined “doer”.
For instance, if, for trivial reasons, I like poking the eyes of my seatmate, I
simply reverse the situation and ask myself: “will I like my seatmate to poke my
eyes?” Of course no one in his right mind will ever like the idea of his eyeballs being
poked for no apparent reason at all. Since I don’t like my eyes to be poked by my
seatmate, then I should refrain from doing it to him.


The year is 1864, and hundreds of Indians raid a frontier village in

Louisiana. Several members of the village fearfully hide where they
could not be found. One woman, named Mrs. Smith, has in her side her
three young children, and in her arms, her baby daughter, Jane. As
some Indians draw close, baby Jane began crying. Mrs. Smith, fearing
for the lives of her other children and the lives of several other people
hiding with them, thinks of choking (viz. killing) baby Jane rather than
risk giving away their hiding place and thereby ensuring death for
them all. With time running out, should Mrs. Smith do her proposed
course of action?


Applying the Reversalizability Test, we can see that the proposed action of
Mrs. Smith fails the requirement of the Principle of Universalizabiltiy.

If I will reverse my situation, assuming that I am Mrs. Smith, and my

daughter baby Jane, will I allow my mother to kill me for reasons I cannot
understand? Being baby Jane I cannot understand why my crying will result
to our certain death, and it would be impossible for me, or for anyone, to let
my mother, or to let anyone, kills me for no understandable reason. Because
I don’t want to be killed, then I should not kill. Because if I am baby Jane, I
don’t want to be choked to death, then, as Mrs. Smith, I should refrain from
choking baby Jane to death, regardless of the consequence.

The perceived risk or the actual consequences of the action of not killing
baby Jane would have been, in this case, unfortunate, but irrelevant to the
moral worth of what Mrs. Smith will do.

For most people, extreme course of action, in extreme cases where several
lives are stake, may be the most sensible thing to do. To kill one innocent
man, for instance, is a moral duty if killing him will save several innocent
lives. But for Kant, once a course of action is proven to be contrary to duty,

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we are categorically prohibited in performing the act regardless of the
consequence. The extremeness of the case is wholly beside the point.

Section 2.2. The Principle of Humanity

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity whether in your

person or in the person of another, always at the same time as
an end and never merely as a means.”

According to Kant, the Principle of Humanity is a practical law which

imposes the supreme limiting condition of every man’s freedom of action. It
demarcates the dichotomy between what we can and cannot do to ourselves
and to others.

Our sense of our inner worth or our sense of dignity (“the humanity
that dwells within”) demands that we should always be treated with respect –
hence, we should never treat others or ourselves as mere playthings that
could be manipulated or exploited. It should be clarified that this does not
mean that doing something for others, or asking people to help us, or
employing them for legitimate purposes is necessarily a degradation of
man’s humanity.

We should not disregard the term “merely” in that part of the

formulation – for once considered, it will be clear that the formulation does
not absolutely prohibits, but rather, it lays a condition on how human beings
are to be used as a means. That is, though we can use people as a means,
we cannot, use them without their consent. What Kant categorically prohibits
is the deliberate attempt to make man do an unethical act, or things against
his will for other ends.

But how do we precisely know if our action treats ourselves, or that of

others, as mere means? We can know by applying two simple tests: Consent
and Means Tests.

Section 2.2.1. Consent Test

Ascertain whether or not a free and informed consent of the person who is
used is present, if it is discovered that it was not solicited, then it violates the
Principle and hence, immoral. Note that when there is no free and informed
consent, our use by others - or our use of other persons, violates the
Principle of Humanity.


A very rich couple, Mr. A and Mrs. B, was still childless after several
years of marriage. When they went to their doctor to find out why,
tests showed that Mr. A is sterile. But because Mr. A does not want the
idea of leaving his vast fortune without an heir of his own, he decided
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to look for a perfect stranger who could give his wife a child. Mrs. B, a
devout Christian, strongly opposed the idea. But Mr. A literally forced
his wife to accept the ordeal and in due time Mrs. B conceived. The
child was fully accepted by Mr. A and the child was loved and raised as
his own.


The end of Mr. A is to have a child who would soon inherit his vast fortune.
Mrs. B, including the unnamed stranger, was used as means to the end of Mr. A.
We claimed previously that there is nothing wrong with using people as
means, the Consent Test simply requires that before we use other people as means,
we should first acquire their free and informed consent. Using a person without his
or her consent is to use that person arbitrarily. Thus, we need to ascertain whether
or not Mrs. B has given her consent to be used as a means.
Looking back at the case, we can clearly see that Mrs. B was forced to accept
the end which is desperately pursued by Mr. A. That is, Mrs. B strongly opposed the
idea of bearing a child from a man she never knew but she was forced by her
husband to comply. Because her husband used her against her will, Mrs. B was
wrongly treated as a mere means to an end. Now, because Mrs. B’s consent was
lacking when Mr. A used her as means, Mr. A’s action therefore fails the Consent
Test. And since Mr. A’s action fails the Consent Test, it necessarily implies that his
action has violated the Principle of Humanity, and, therefore, unethical.

Section 2.2.2. Means Test

Evaluate whether or not the means used to pursue ethically desirable

ends is not intrinsically immoral.

Hence, even if we give our consent, whether informed or not, voluntary or forced, using
ourselves in ways that violates our sense of self-respect, or our dignity as persons, is morally
wrong regardless whether or not the end we pursue is morally desirable.

For Kant, consent is not everything because there are cases where the
mere giving of consent cannot justify the immorality of certain actions. There
are types of acts which are in themselves degrading to the dignity or
humanity of human beings – acts that we are categorically prohibited from
doing or pursuing even if their ends are morally desirable.

In other words they are acts we can never justify to be morally good.

Can you make the analysis of the moral case below employing the
Means Test?


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Mr. Q, a young bank employee, was indicted for embezzlement, and
the evidence all seemed to point to a conviction. But he knew he was
innocent, and his wife, Mrs. R, believed him. Mrs. R was soon informed
that Mr. S, another bank employee, knew the whereabouts of
documents that would reveal the real embezzler and prove that her
husband was innocent. Mrs. R tried to ask for Mr. S’s help, but
unfortunately, he refused to help her get the evidence.

Desperate to prove her husband’s innocence, Mrs. R quickly made the

decision to get the evidence at whatever cost. She went to Mr. S and
tried again to win his cooperation, this time by offering and making
herself sexually available. After spending several nights with Mr. S,
Mrs. R successfully made him oblige. Eventually the documents were
forthcoming, her husband was cleared, and the real embezzler was
indicted and convicted
(This is based from an interesting case presented by James L. Christian
in his book Philosophy: An Introduction To The Art of Wondering, 1973,


The strongest and the single most important contribution of Kantian

Ethics is its emphasis on the unconditional respect for human rights and
dignity. Regardless of the nobility of an actual or perceived End of an act, if it
violates the rights and dignity of man, that is, if it exploits human beings as
mere means to an end, the act is unethical.

In other words if the means employed is wrong, the act, regardless of

the goodness of the end, is wrong.

This explains our noble perception that the end does not, and will
never justify a wrongful means. Kantian Ethics also explains why we cannot
morally permit ourselves to be treated inhumanely. Our sense of dignity or
our sense of priceless worth cannot be bargained for anything for any
reason. In other words it helps us realize that we don’t absolutely own
ourselves to allow others to treat us arbitrarily.

There exists an unyielding limitation to what we can and cannot do to

our persons and to others, that is, we are categorically commanded to
always respect our dignity or the dignity of others as human beings.

A major criticism is that the Kantian Ethics provides unrealistic or

unachievable rules of conduct. Unrealistic, because its cold objectivity or its
indifference to human emotion detach it from the everyday realities of human
existence. Unachievable, because it sets a very high standard of morality which
accepts no exemption - it unfairly asks for moral perfection from an imperfect man.

Few seriously expect that we can really convince a desperate mother not to
steal by invoking the Principle of Universalizability. Kant downplays the role of
human sentiments or emotions, which in the real world of real people exert the
most powerful motivation for action. The objection by many philosophers against
the Kantian approach of downplaying the role of consequences in the ethical
analysis of Human Acts is also in order.

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If we take the motive as the sole measure of right or wrong, as Warburton
humorously, but rightly commented, it means that well-intentioned idiots who
unintentionally cause a number of deaths through incompetence might be morally
blameless (1992, p.45).


Utilitarian Ethics is the most important Consequentialist theory, and the

serious opponent of Kantian Ethics. This moral theory was first introduced by Jeremy
Bentham and James Mill in the eighteenth century and was later perfected and
popularized by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

Utilitarian followers downplay the significance of motive because unlike

motive, there is no other element of Human Acts that could be measured,
calculated or predicted with scientific or mathematical precision than that of the
consequences. Identifying consequences of an act is not guesswork. If an act
causes an injury, we can immediately see that something wrong was done and
someone must be held responsible for it.

Utilitarianism, as a theory of Morality, basically argues that what makes an

act right is its consequences. If the act has resulted to good consequences, then it is
moral – if not, then it is immoral. Good consequence is measured by the amount of
happiness brought about by the act to a given number of people: the greatest
amount of happiness for the greatest number of persons.

For John Stuart Mill, happiness has both a positive and negative definitions.
Positively defined, happiness is anything that the greater number of people finds
pleasurable. Negatively defined, happiness is the absence of pain. These two
concepts, pleasure and pain, though still vague, are central to the Utilitarian theory:
what is pleasurable is good, what is painful is bad – what causes pleasure is moral,
what causes pain is immoral.
For Mill, there are two forms of Pleasure: The physical and the mental.

The physical pleasures are sensual indulgences or bodily gratifications that

include among others the following: sexual intercourse, eating, drinking, dancing,
singing, etc. The excessive or the ill-regulated pursuit of this type of pleasures
causes harm or injury to the self. Because physical pleasure appeals to the lower
faculties of man, it is considered by Mill to be animalistic or beastly and make up
the lower form or the inferior type of pleasure. Mental Pleasure, on the other hand,
refers to the intellectual, spiritual, and moral pleasures. It refers to man’s noble
feelings, imaginations and moral sentiments. It is a higher or a superior form of
pleasure, more desirable and more valuable as compared to those of mere
sensation. It is generally more difficult to achieve them, but makes man pursuing
them more dignified. This type of pleasure includes among others the enjoyment of
freedom of will and intellect, social recognition, feeling of self worth and respect,
feeling of peace and security, etc.

Utilitarian Ethics refers more to mental pleasures when it defined happiness

as pleasure, and it refers to the pursuit of mental pleasures when it calls for the
promotion of pleasure. These two types of pleasure should compliment each other.

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This differentiates utilitarianism with Hedonism which considers physical pleasures
to be the sole good worthy of pursuit.

Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and
desires greater pleasure than the pleasure which the swine (i.e. pigs) are only
capable. Human sense of self-respect and dignity makes him desire for greater form
of pleasure. Even if man’s pursuit of happiness (as moral pleasure) leads to personal
dissatisfaction, still he thinks that he ought not to settle with beastly pleasures for it
do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness.

According to Mill “It is better to be a human dissatisfied, than a pig satisfied;

better to be Socrates dissatisfied, than to be fools satisfied.”

Section 4.1. The Greatest Happiness Principle

Like the Kantian Ethics, Utilitarian Ethics also prescribes a categorical or

unyielding rule of human conduct:

“Always perform only those acts that best promote the most happiness
for the greatest number of people.”

Utilitarian philosophers call this moral rule as the Principle of Utility or the
Greatest Happiness Principle. The Principle is very simple to understand, it simply
means that when we are faced with a moral dilemma, we are advised to do only
those actions that most probably will result to the greatest amount of happiness for
the greatest number of people.

To make the application of the Principle of Utility a lot much easier, we can
consider the assessment involved in the process of making moral decisions and the
assessment of performed actions as two distinct types of Utilitarian analysis of acts.
For convenience we shall call the first type of utilitarian analysis the Pre-
Performance Analysis and the second type as Post-Performance Analysis.

Pre-Performance Analysis is employed when the act to be performed is yet to

be decided, while the Post-Performance Analysis is best employed when the act is
already performed.

Section 4.2. Pre-Performance Analysis of Human Acts

This analysis is usually used when we decide, usually between two competing
alternatives, on the best possible course of action. This analysis is premised on one
basic rule:

“The alternative action that has the highest probability of promoting

the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of persons
should always be performed.”

Following this basic rule, we have three simple steps to follow when we use
the Pre-Performance Analysis:
1. Determine all alternative acts available to us on that occasion (What are
my choices? What are the things I can possibly do?).

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2. Make a detailed calculation of the most likely consequences of all
alternative actions (How many people will benefit from my act? How many
people will suffer?).

3. Determine the alternative act that that will produce the greatest sum total
of happiness (Which number of people is greater, those who will benefit or
those who will suffer? Which alternative act will most probably promote
the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of persons?).

After determining the alternative action that will produce the greatest sum
total of happiness, we are bound by our utilitarian duty to perform it, regardless
whether we, as the doer of the act, is happy or unhappy about doing it.


Mr. C was newly employed as an environmental engineer for a

Chemical Plant located in a small town in Davao. Only after few days,
Mr. C learned that the Chemical Plant, which employs 500 workers,
suffers a bad reputation especially from the residents of nearby
villages. The reason for the plant’s notoriety is the popular belief that it
is the cause of some mysterious diseases that have been killing many
of the local residents since it has started its operation three years ago.
But because there were no concrete proofs supporting the residents’
allegations, the Plant is operating unhindered.

One night, while Mr. C was working overtime, Mr. C noticed that
Mr. D, his immediate supervisor, together with some utility personnel,
was busy loading barrels of unidentified material to one of the Plant’s
trucks. Curious, Mr. C inquired Mr. D about it – but the latter
sarcastically told Mr. C to return to his work because it is not his
business to know. Mr. C complied and went back to his work still
wondering. The same thing occurred the following night, then after a
week, it ceased – only to resume a week later. Mr. C has soon observed
a pattern: barrels of unknown materials were usually loaded every
time the waste from the Chemical Plant needs to be processed and

Mr. C thought that Mr. D was doing something terribly wrong, so

he did further observations and investigations. In due time, Mr. C
proved his suspicion – he discovered that the barrels contain high-
grade toxic wastes from the Chemical Plant and these ‘unwanted’
materials were loaded and disposed in the nearby river during the
night when no one could notice it. Mr. C was now fully convinced that
the improperly disposed toxic wastes has been contaminating the
water supply of the nearby villages and is the cause of those
‘mysterious’ diseases and deaths.

After preparing his evidence, Mr. C tactfully confronted again Mr.

D. Now confronted by Mr. C with solid proofs, Mr. D frankly admitted
that he was indeed dumping toxic wastes in the nearby river because
Mr. E, their employer, has strictly instructed him to do so. Mr. D told
him that the cost of processing toxic wastes is very expensive which,
according to Mr. E, rigorously doing it would gradually ruin the
business. Mr. D advised Mr. C to keep silent about his ‘discovery’
because if the authorities would come to know about it, they would all
lose their jobs.

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But Mr. C was undeterred and decided to talk with Mr. E hoping
to convince his employer to stop the illegal dumping of the Plant’s
toxic wastes. But when Mr. C discussed his concerns with Mr. E, the
latter told Mr. C that it is how things are and if they all want to stay in
business, Mr. C should stop being a moral fool. Mr. C needs his job
badly, so are his other co-employees. But many people are already
suffering from the illegal and immoral practice of his supervisor and

If you were Mr. C, what will you do?


Following the steps proposed by the Pre-Performance Analysis, we need to

determine all available choices for Mr. C. We could possibly conceive at least two
available alternatives:
1. Not to report the illegal and unethical practice of Mr. D and
Mr. E. to the proper authorities.
2. To report the illegal and unethical practice of Mr. D and Mr. E
to the proper authorities.

The second step is to identify the probable consequences of each of the two
alternative actions. Thus, if Mr. C chooses to do the first alternative act, that is, not
to report the illegal activity of Mr. D and Mr. E to the proper authorities, we can
conceive at least four relevant and probable consequences:
1. Continued suffering of the local residents of nearby villages
from diseases and deaths.
2. Keeping his badly needed job.
3. Continued operations of the Chemical Plant.
4. Continued employment of his co-workers.

On the other hand, if Mr. C chooses the second alternative act, that is, to report the
illegal activity of Mr. D and Mr. E to the proper authorities, we can again conceive at
least four relevant and probable consequences:
1. Saving the local residents of nearby villages from diseases
and deaths.
2. Losing his badly needed job.
3. Fining of Mr. E and the possible termination of operation of
the Chemical Plant
4. The possible lost of jobs of his other co-employees once the
Chemical Plant stopped its operations.

The third step of the Pre-Performance Analysis is to determine which

alternative act will produce the greatest sum total of happiness for the greatest
number of persons. Although the case clearly provides that the Chemical Plant
employs five hundred workers, it does not provide for any ‘population density’ of the
affected villages. However, our common sense will tell us that the number of local
residents living in nearby villages is probably more than 500, or greater than the
number of persons working in the Chemical Plant.

Assuming that our ‘common sense’ is correct, we can say that in the first
alternative act (i.e. not to report the illegal activity of Mr. D and Mr. E), while it will
result with Mr. C., together with other employees, keeping his job, it will, however,

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result to the continued suffering of the greater number of people from diseases and

In the second alternative act (i.e. to report the illegal activity of Mr. D and Mr.
E), the probable consequences will be the lost of Mr. C’s and his other co-workers’
jobs, but it will also result to the great relief of many people who are gravely
harmed by the illegal activity of Mr. D and Mr. E.

Hence, it is evident that between the two alternative acts, the one which will
promote the most happiness for the greatest number of persons is the second
alternative, that is, for Mr. C to report the illegal activity of Mr. D and Mr. E.

After identifying the alternative act that will best result to the happiness of
the greatest number of people, we can now easily determine what Mr. C should do.
The Principle of Utility states that, “always perform only those acts that best
promote the most happiness for the greatest number of people” Since the number
of people who will benefit if the first alternative act is performed is greater than
those who will suffer, we can therefore say that Mr. C is bound by his utilitarian duty
to report the illegal activity of Mr. And Mr. E.

Section 4.3. Post-Performance Analysis of Moral Acts

This type of analysis applies after the selected course of action was already
performed. The act is judged to be right or wrong based on its direct results,
whether or not it has actually achieved the utilitarian end of promoting the most
happiness for the greatest number of persons. This type of analysis evaluates
actions even those performed following the Pre-Performance Analysis.

This analysis is basically premised on the idea that it is not enough to intend
the utilitarian end of promoting the greatest happiness – the utilitarian end must be
actually achieved by the act before it could be judged good.


Gatto & Doddo Company is one of the leading and major producers of
quality milk for babies and nursing mothers. The company is best
recognized by the public not because of its huge sales but for its
genuine commitment for social services. Its feeding programs around
the country, mostly done unpublicized and intended to help especially
the poor mothers and their babies, who cannot afford the cost of high-
nutrients milk, have for years gained the trust and support of many
consumers. After the eruption of Mt. Paringga, the company decided to
implement for the first time its feeding program to remote aeta
communities that were then believed to have suffered the hardest.
The native people and many who came to know about the plan
welcomed the activity and praised the company for its generosity. But
days after the feeding program, mothers and babies, including children
who participated in the program became very sick. Many of them have
died before they were brought to hospitals. It was later found out that
the reason was the aeta’s severe lactose intolerance and allergies
caused by the company’s milk.

(This case example was first presented in Articulo & Florendo, Values
and Work Ethics, 2004, Trinitas Publishing Inc., p. 96)

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In this case, it is clear that the decision of the Gatto & Doddo Company
intends a Utilitarian End, that is, to promote the happiness of many people. The
means employed by the act was also unquestionably moral: giving food supplies for
free is a selfless act.

However, Utilitarian Ethics is more interested with consequences of an act

not with its intention and means. Even though the intended end of the act is moral,
its actual consequence has failed to achieve it. Even though the means of the act
was honorable, its actual consequence, again, failed to be good.

The act has brought about suffering and death to many people and since it
failed to observe the Principle of Utility, the act, regardless of the nobility of its
purpose and means, is therefore unethical.


In Democratic societies like ours, the Utilitarian Ethics provides a very strong
justification to people’s popular demands to their government like the demands for
better standard of living, better government services, better peace and order
situation, etc. Utilitarian morality could also be a philosophical tool in challenging
the ethics of any existing economic realities of the society, for instance, it generally
criticizes why the wealthy few are the only ones who enjoy quality of life, while the
many poor suffer the subhuman existence.

While the strength of the utilitarian theory, as a theory of life, lies on its
emphasis of the general welfare of human beings as the ultimate standard of right
and wrong, it is also the cause of its own major weakness. Utilitarian theory treats
everything as conditional and subservient to Utility: unethical acts like lying,
stealing, or breaking a promise becomes morally good if it promotes, it has
promoted, the utilitarian end. Thus, Utilitarian Ethics causes moral agents to lose a
very important aspect of human relation: personal integrity.

Utilitarian Ethics, because of its dogmatic adherence to the happiness of the

greatest number can also repugnantly justify extreme forms of unethical practices:
as long as it promotes the utilitarian tenet of the greatest happiness of the greatest
number of persons, the exploitation, banishment or even murder of the few
becomes morally justifiable.

The Utilitarian treatment of quantifying human dignity, that is, the treatment
of human beings as mere numbers in the moral calculation of happiness also seems
to violate our individual sense of self-worth. A human being is far greater than a
mere number; he is a moral being with inherent sense of dignity, someone who
must be treated with respect.

Aside from these philosophical and theoretical problems, Utilitarian Ethics has
also a practical problem. It’s emphasis on calculation of causal consequences
renders the theory difficult, if not impossible, to apply in real life. Most of the time
life presents situations where we need to decide fast and with little room for
calculation. If we calculate all the persons who will benefit and who will suffer every

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time we make our decision, we will all end up doing nothing or we will find ourselves
too late to act.


Man’s moral life is too complex to be explained completely by any theory. Any
systems of morality somehow always to miss something. No matter how profound,
how careful, how tightly reasoned, any moral philosophies, or any logically oriented
systems, seem somehow fundamentally inadequate (Soccio: 1995, p.45). Criticisms
of both the Kantian and Utilitarian Ethics prove this assertion.

However, what we require is not completeness, but that which is most

favorable to a human and humane moral progress.

Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism, which is the better theory? Let us

identify a basic premise which we all could accept as an objective guide in making
our choise.

Now, if there is something we could all agree, it is the premise that every
human being naturally desires to be treated with respect that is appropriate to a
human being. The universal desire of every human being to be respected flows from
his very nature: there exists in him a natural sense of priceless worth. Thus, no man
naturally desires to be treated like a beast of burden, to be humiliated, to be treated
cruelly and inhumanely, or to be treated as a disposable item in the system of
things. The respect of man’s dignity is therefore essential to the pursuit of humanly

Now, if this premise is uncontestable, the measure therefore of the better

theory of life is that which does not degrade man’s sense of self-worth and dignity.
Between Kantian Ethics and Utilitarian Ethics, which, then, is better?

You decide.

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