Ethical Theories in Moral Problems

Decision making is arguably one of the most crucial aspects of any
individual’s life. It involves choosing between two or more
alternatives that are conflicting in one way or another. Needless to
say, individuals make decisions every day of their lives and in almost
everything. Of course, there are variations as to the magnitude of
decisions and their implications. However, there are instances where,
despite the fact that an individual has varied choices to choose from,
none of them would appear enviable. These are called ethical problems,
whose solution would entail trampling on one ethic or issue of morality
or another. This is the case in Jim Story.
Jim must make a choice between killing one of the tied Indians thereby
saving the rest or give up the “honor” and have all of them killed
by the captain. Of course, there is no option of saving all of them as
any attempt at holding the captain and his army to ransom would be more
likely to result in the death of all the captured prisoners, as well as
Jim himself (Miller & Jensen, 2009). This means that whatever option Jim
takes, there is bound to be death of one or more people.
As much as there are varied theories that would guide his decision,
utilitarianism comes as the most appropriate in this case.
Utilitarianism refers to a moral principle that underlines the fact that
the morally right decision or course of action for any problem would be
the one that results in the greatest balance of benefits over the harms
for all individuals affected by the decision (Hinman, 1998). A decision
or course of action, according to the utilitarian theory, would be
morally appropriate as long as it results in maximum benefits for all
individuals involved, irrespective of whether the benefits were produced
through coercion, manipulation and lies (Miller & Jensen, 2009).
Utilitarianism comes with a relatively straightforward technique of
making a decision pertaining to the morally appropriate course of action
for the situation in which Jim has found himself (Hinman, 1998). To come
up with an appropriate decision on the course of action, he would first
need to identify the varied course of action available to him. Next, he
would undertake an assessment or evaluation of all the foreseeable harms
and benefits that the every course of action produces for even person
that is involved (Hinman, 1998). Lastly, he would make a choice on the
course of action that comes with the most benefits after taking into
account the costs or harms (Miller & Jensen, 2009).
While examining Jim’s case, it goes without saying that death is a
constant or fixed variable in the equation of his decision. The key or
fundamental question would essentially revolve around the number of
deaths with which he can live, or rather the number of lives that he can
save in this case, especially considering that every decision he makes
would essentially result in the death of at least one person. Taking
every course of action into consideration, choosing to forfeit the
honors of the special mark to the occasion would result in the death of
20 inhabitants, considering that there would essentially be nothing
special with the occasion in which case the executions would go on as
previously planned. However, accepting the special honor from Captain
Pedro, Jim would only have to kill one of the inhabitants captured,
thereby allowing the other nineteen to be set free (Miller & Jensen,
2009). In this case, taking up the honor would essentially result in the
salvation of more lives and less harm. The ethical conundrum in this
case is understandable.
Of course, deontological normative ethical theorists would be likely to
disagree. The deontological normative ethical theory underlines the fact
that an individual should focus on the morality of the action, not the
end result or consequences. In essence, the individual would have to
only focus on what the actions represent in themselves. In this case,
Jim would have to forfeit the honor accorded to him by the captain as
killing an individual would be morally inappropriate. While this is the
case, it is imperative that one acknowledges the fact that Jim is
presented with an opportunity to kill either by omission or by
commission. In essence, death or killing is a constant factor, in which
case the question would have to revert to the number. In this case,
killing by commission would amount to the death of a single individual
while killing by omission would result in the death of 20 individuals.
In essence, it would boil down to examining the consequences. In
essence, the most appropriate theory right from the beginning would be
the utilitarianism where one would examine the consequences and
determine the course of action by evaluating the option that comes with
the most benefits.
In conclusion, Jim’s story involves a moral conundrum where he has to
make a decision on whether to accept the offer to kill one captured
individual and save 19 others or refuse the offer and have all of them
killed. While there are varied theories that would explain the most
appropriate course of action, utilitarianism comes as the most
appropriate. All Jim would have to do is determine the varied course of
action, their harms and benefits to all individuals and take the one
that balances the greatest amount of benefits.
Hinman, L. M (1998). Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory, 2nd
Edition. New York: Harcourt Brace
Miller, E. L., & Jensen, J. (2009). Questions that matter: An invitation
to philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill.