Burning Building Case Study
If you were in a burning building and ha time to save only one what would it be neighbor's dog or your stash under the mattress? While the answer to this question seems obvious and definite from all perspectives, there are much harder choices where different ethical theories suggest different recommendations. The major theories of ethics: virtue, deontological, and utilitarian offer a broad framework of rules and recommendations which actions are better to take in morally complex situations. While they give a general direction of thought, the details of each individual case need to be worked out, and so does the eight steps model. So, by applying them to this particular decision-making process, we can gain useful insights for making decisions in complex situations for our personal and professional life.
First things first, as Trevino & Nelson suggest “step one: gather the facts” (2014, p. 51). In this case, there are not much facts. Firstly, I can run only to one side of the building and, secondly, there are multiple voices on one side and a single one on the other. Thirdly, I notice later that the single voice belongs to a close person. While in such imagined situation this seems to be all for the facts, however, in a real-life situation there will be much more other important facts to be gathered such as accessibility of each of the sides, potential danger, survival chances, etc. All of them should be taken into account.
After gathering the data, next step is to identify ethical issues. In this case, the main ethical issue is whether the decision should be changed the moment you get to know that the sole voice on the other end is the voice of the person you cherish. This is the time to ask ethical theories advice. According to the deontological point of view, actions are classified into right or wrong basing on the intention of the actor. From this perspective, the ethical issue is whether my duty is to save multiple strangers or a close person. Utilitarian approach judges actions by their outcomes. The ethical issue will be: “Who will get harmed and who will benefit?” Also, from which action society will benefit the most. Virtue ethics suggest judging actions by the nature of an actor. The dilemma in this approach is “what would a virtuous person do?”
After defining key moral dilemmas, stakeholders should be identified. This step is very important because here the parties involved are defined. They are all of those who will take part in making a decision or the ones who will bear its consequences. The deontological approach suggests identifying the obligations and duties of the parties. If this approach is used, I am the only party since I am the only one having ability to act and possessing a moral duty to save people's lives when necessary. From the utilitarian point of view, consequences for the hostages of the burning building as well as society as a whole matter. It is typically hard to identify all the stakeholders affected because "some of the stakeholders affected by the decision may not even be born yet" (Trevino & Nelson, 2014, p. 53). As for the case, the background of the persons in the building should also be learned to get the full picture.
The next step is to identify the consequences. From the deontological point of view, the morality of an act is important and not the consequences, so this point will focus on the utilitarian perspective. The key to making a good decision is “to identify consequences that have a high probability of occurring and those that would have particularly negative consequences” (Trevino & Nelson, 2014, p. 54). In the case, the most highly probable consequences are the death of either a group of people on one side of the building or of a close person on another side and my further life with or without this person. This is the first line of direct consequences, there are, however, deeper ones. If the background of the victims of fire would be known, then it would be possible to approximate the consequences for the family members and society as a whole. This fact really matters because there may be situations when saving one person is better that saving a group of persons if this person has a high value for society or these persons do not bring high utility for the society. For example, if my close person is a world level surgeon or the group of people consists of felons or strongly mentally disabled people. Although these are the extremes and, in reality, the differences will not be so radical, but they will be. Moreover, we will be totally mistaken if we consider that every person provides equal utility for the society – this is a hard choice, however, it should be made. In the case, if no additional info is available, the consequences are the following: in the first scenario
a group of people dies, a close person is saved, and I continue to live without grief of loss, in the second scenario a group of people is saved, my close person dies, and I experience the sadness and grief of loss and continue to live without this person.
As the next step, obligations should be identified. This step goes along a deontological approach. In this case, my duty is to help people in trouble, to save their lives. This duty resides on our basic needs and values such as sense of safety in society, our survival, and the existence of the society itself. This obligation can be further extended to saving the greatest number of lives possible which would be a good maxim to cling to.
Next, Trevino & Nelson advise us to "think about yourself as a person of integrity. Ask what a person of integrity would do in this situation" (2014, p. 56). This step utilizes the ethics of virtue approach. What would a virtuous person in such situation do? In such situation when nothing is known about the ones who are on the other side of the building, what would a person of integrity do? In my opinion, a virtuous person would not cling to personal feelings towards a close person and would do virtuous act and will save a group of people even if they do not possess personal value for him. This is an act of a person of the highest moral standards.
The next step, thinking creatively about potential actions, would be probably the most important in a real-life situation. We rarely find ourselves in a purely refined world of academic tasks with a strictly limited amount of solutions, we live in a world which is complex and offers a million possibilities every second. So, instead of rushing into a burning building where you have to choose whom to save maybe, a better decision would be to call for help find someone who will help in saving people. Another possible option would be to look for possibilities for these people to start escaping without external help. However, in a rough frame of this particular case, there are no alternative options except for running faster.
The last step that Trevino & Nelson suggest is to "check your gut" (2014, p. 57). It would be an excellent source of extra options in figuring out the way to save everyone. However, if that cannot be done then the best would be not to listen to one's gut because it would probably suggest from basic instincts to save a close person.
So, after completing all eight steps of decision-making model, the best and only option for the right action would be to save a group of persons. This goes along with the consequentialist, deontological, and virtue ethical theories and, apparently, is the best act one could perform in such situation.
Trevino, L. K. & Nelson, K. A. (2014). Managing business ethics: Straight talk about how to do it right (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.