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Case - Normative theories of Ethics

Part A - The unethical behaviour

Q1. What is the nature of the wrong that the law is punishing here? In other words, why is it wrong to pretend you are supplying one product when you are really providing another? The answer might seem obvious, but don't stop at 'because it's wrong to deceive people' or something similar. Why is it wrong? Try to explain why such behaviour is unethical from the point of view of a utilitarian moral thinker. Would a non-consequentialist ethical theorist have a different understanding of the nature of the wrongdoing in this case?

Answer - The nature of the wrong that the law is punishing in this case is that of consequentialism. In other words, it is morally wrong to pretend that a particular product is being supplied while a totally different product is being actually provided. Utilitarianism explains that the consequence of any action must hold the greatest value, and this consequence should be related to the betterment of the masses on a large scale. This implies that when any action is done, the result or the consequence should be for the greater good. The evaluation is not on an individual basis but more on a cumulative basis. Therefore, in this case, the fact that Mr Garnett had not been honest with his customers and packaged the caged eggs as being free-range ones is morally wrong from the utilitarian viewpoint, as people had bought the more expensive eggs instead of choosing the cheaper alternatives out of ethical concerns. The consumers as well as the actual producers of free-range eggs had undergone loss because of these actions.

Consequentialism and utilitarianism states that the actions undertaken must be done so with the intention of producing the maximum possible balance of good compared to bad for those who are being affected by the actions. Furthermore, the more the good inflicted by an action, higher the chances are for it to be right. The primary intention behind this utilitarianism is that the happiness to the maximum possible extent is the only moral obligation that one can have, and this is to be applied to the entire stretch of moral codes as well.

Kant's theory was non-utilitarian in nature, as the approach argues that there is nothing that can be strictly defined as being "good" except for the concept of good will. Moreover, an act when committed by a person can be said to right only if universal law approves of it. Thus, in the given case, even the non-utilitarian theorist would agree that what Mr Garnett did was wrong, as it was unlawful of him to have deceived the customers and deny the actual free-range egg producers of their market share.


Q2. Does the case make you think about the virtues you would like to personify in your business? What are the virtues you think are important for people to have in business?

Answer - For a business, it is important for people to have virtues in order to be morally correct. As Aristotle suggested, virtue ethics are to be applied consistently, and thus an individual's character cannot be judged simply through their actions at just only one point of time. Similarly, in this case, Mr Garnett had passed away the caged eggs as being free range ones because he had needed the money at that time, which implies that he cannot be said to be strictly without virtue.

Q3. The judge emphasises the breach of trust caused by the defendant's behaviour. Why is trust important? Why is it, in particular, important in business?

Answer - Trust as an entity is extremely important for a business, because it is what helps maintain the relationship with the clients, employees, customers and stakeholders. The economy for an organisation works because there is a relationship of trust between the people and the businesses. Moreover, in order to nurture trust, adherence to business ethics is a must. Thus, in this case, the judge emphasises the breach of trust as propagated by Mr Garnett, because consumers now would be wary of buying eggs labelled as free-range, which would ultimately harm the genuine producers and put their business at a risk.

Q4. Does the conclusion that the defendant's actions were wrongful depend on what he was deceitful about? In other words, are there some situations where, because the deceitful behaviour 'does no harm', it is not wrong? If one thinks, in the case we are discussing, that the quality of a chicken's or a hen's life is not important enough to worry about, does it follow that it would not be wrong to falsely package the eggs because no real harm was done thereby?

Answer - Kant's approach can be mentioned here if this question is to be answered with integrity; he theorised that an act can be said to be morally right if it was approved by a universal law. In other words, he refuted the idea of consequence being the primary criteria for judging the "goodness" of an action. This often raises the question of moral worth, since for an action be moral, it must be acceptable to all human beings and there must be no unfair use of others to achieve the goals. Although there had been no "real" or apparent harm when Mr Garnett packaged off the ordinary eggs as free-range ones, it must be mentioned, that there are many other aspects that need to be considered to conclude the deceit or wrongfulness evident in his behaviour. For instance, the quality of the life of the hens is a moral issue that can be spoken of when discussing about eggs that come from caged birds.


Part B - The punishment

Q1. The defendant was sentenced to 12 months' home detention and 200 hours of community service. How can this punishment be justified in terms of the ethical theories you have studied in this chapter?

Answer - There are numerous justifications that can be attributed to punishment, which include retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence and incapacitation. Furthermore, there are many ways in which punishment can be inflicted, such as isolation and imprisonment. Utilitarian thinkers often hold the viewpoint that punishment can be justified only through the consequences. In other words, when an individual takes part in an act that has negative or harmful consequences, they deserve to be punished accordingly, as the threat of facing such a consequence could prevent them from committing it in the future. The punishment meted out to Mr Garnett is sufficiently enough and is not too harsh at all, because his actions had been wrongful and against the law. He had deceived his customers and broken their trust, but then again since there had been no apparent harm involved in the consequences, a moderate punishment such as a year of house arrest and 200 hours of community service are quite apt.

Q2. Is the punishment meted out to the defendant in this case a just retribution for what he did to others by deceiving them? Or do you think the law should be stricter in cases of dishonesty, because, in Kantian terms, every form of dishonesty is equally bad and should be severely punished?

Answer - Kant often regarded trust as being the centre of this theories, because he did not emphasise on the consequences of the actions but instead on the intention or the knowledge that was involved behind the act. In fact, he theorised that the punishment meted out for a small crime such as deceit must be in no way less harsh than what is meted out in case of a bigger deception. He stated that all crimes pertaining to the breach of trust were equally grave, and thus deserved harsh punishment. However, this view is rather unjust, since the harm or the consequences for the two separate instances of the crimes would be vastly different. This implies that the harm caused by a small deceit will be significantly lesser compared to the one inflicted by a deception of a larger scale. Thus, it would not be morally or ethically correct to apply the Kantian theory in these situations. Also, the punishment as meted out to Mr Garnett can actually be seen as a form of retribution for his deceitful actions, as although there had been no apparent harm due to his packaging faults, it did injure the trust of the people, and thus, doing community service can serve as a means to repent for it.

Q3. The judge took into account, as required by law, various mitigating factors (reasons to lessen the punishment but not to excuse the behaviour) in reaching his sentencing decision. Why should judges have to do that? What do you think the difference is, in ordinary language, between a mitigating factor and an excuse? Do you think this distinction accords with Kant's theory of ethics? Or with utilitarianism?

Answer - Mitigating factors are those elements, which if present, can lead to the charging of the defendant with an offense that is typically lesser than what should be meted out for their actions. This is dependant on the mental state of the individual. Excuses, on the other hand, are in no way a provision for negating the wrongful acts of a defendant, and although the action is considered as criminal, the individual is usually let off without any punishment. In this particular case, the judge had considered the fact that Mr Garnett had been under a lot of stress in addition to being depressed and had also confessed to the crime instead of trying to evade persecution. These facts acted as the mitigating factors, due to which the punishment meted out was a less harsh than what was expected from the judge, which was essentially correct. This decision actually resonates with the Kantian approach, since this theory essentially deals with the intention behind the act and not its consequences.


Q4. In taking into account mitigating factors when sentencing, courts are exercising the virtue of mercy. Do you think mercy is an important virtue? Why, or why not?

Answer - Mercy is indeed an important virtue, because it often so happens that an individual who has committed an offence has done so without being fully aware of the consequences or repercussions of the act. In this particular case, the judge considered the mitigating factors of Mr Garnett being stressed and depressed due to the financial pressures he had been faced with, as this was the primary reason as to why he had passed off the eggs from the caged birds as being free-range in an attempt to rake in more money. Furthermore, there had been little or no fuss as he had pleaded guilty very early, and had returned from Australia, thereby saving the trouble of having to try and extradite him, which would have otherwise been a time-consuming as well as expensive procedure.


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