The ethical quandary in Robert F. Ladenson’s Friends and Lovers presents a situation in which one member of a group of three friends, Claire, must make a decision about how to deal with information she has received intimately concerning her other two friends, Tony and Beth, who are engaged to be married. Tony has revealed he had a brief affair but asked Claire to keep the fact a secret, and Beth has asked Claire if she thinks something is “going on” with Tony. Claire’s decision on how to deal with the situation will differ depending on what type of ethics she applies; for instance, her response may differ depending on whether she subscribes to Utilitarianism, Deontology, or Virtue Theory types of ethical philosophies.
If Claire decides to apply Utilitarianism, she might consider using Jeremy Bentham’s Hedonistic Calculus or John Stuart Mill’s “harm none” principle. These ethical theories argue that the correct thing to do is when an ethical conflict arises is the one in which the consequences allow for the most overall happiness. Using Utilitarianism to examine the situation, Claire will consider what the outcome will be if she tells Beth about Tony’s affair, even though Tony has asked her not to. Considering that neither Beth nor Tony seem to desire calling off the wedding, revealing the affair will make neither Beth nor Tony happy. It will harm the future happiness of Beth and Tony, as well as Tony’s trust in Claire, if she reveals the affair to Beth. Therefore, from a Utilitarianistic perspective, Claire would decide that her friends would have the most consequential happiness if she does not reveal the affair, and no one would not be harmed if she keeps this knowledge to herself.
If Claire decides to apply Deontology, she might consider the theories of Immanuel Kant as a guide. According to Kant, Claire’s motive in choosing to reveal or not to reveal the affair should be the basis of her decision, and not the consequences of her action of lack thereof. Kant believed in a universal moral law, and that everyone must have the opportunity to reason and make choices for moral law to be preserved. By lying to Beth and not telling her about Tony’s affair, she is not allowing Beth to apply her own reason in the situation and depriving Beth of making her own choices. According to Kant’s reasoning, if Claire chooses not to tell Beth about the affair, her motive is a selfish one that allows her to feel good by equivocating about information she knows. It objectifies Beth by not seeing her as a person capable of reason. Using Kant’s theory, Claire will decide to tell Beth about Tony’s affair because universal moral law requires that she not lie to Beth, and to treat her friend as a person capable of reason, someone who can make her own choices if she is fully informed.
If Claire decides to apply Virtue Ethics to her situation, she could look to Plato for guidance in her decision. In Plato’s allegory of the cave, he describes the things people believe they see as mere reflections of reality. In order to see what is really there, they must turn and face the reality. If Claire chooses to use Virtue Ethics like Plato’s to deal with her situation, she could make one of two decisions. She could decide that the words Tony has told her about his affair reflect reality and that she could enlighten Beth by showing her the truth behind the reflected evidence she is seeing. Alternatively, she could begin a dialogue with Beth arguing that whether there is something “going on” with Tony or not, Beth should ask Tony himself why he has been acting preoccupied, because unless Beth faces the actual situation, she will not get the truth but only the reflection of it. Probably, considering the nature of Virtue Ethics, Claire would encourage Beth to talk to Tony rather than reveal anything herself.
If I encountered this situation myself, I would probably use a more Ultilitarian aspect when dealing with my friends’ predicament. If both seemed excited about the wedding, I would not reveal Tony’s secret and hope for their ultimate happiness. However, if there was any doubt involved in the situation, I would likely adopt a stance based more on Virtue Ethics, encouraging both friends to engage in a dialogue leading them to further enlightenment by facing the truth together, rather than just reflections through others such as myself.