In class we talked a lot about consequences. According to act utilitarianism consequences are what determine the right/wrongness of our actions rather than the actions themselves. We also stressed the importance of the long-term. As I thought about this further, I couldn’t help but realize how many types of consequences there actually are that are relevant and influential in our decision making (whether your decision making is as an individual or as a corporation). The “8 Steps to Sound Ethical Decision Making” touched on this briefly and I wanted to highlight a point. Step 4 (Identify the Consequences) speaks to symbolic consequences and consequences of secrecy. Symbolic consequences can be described in terms of the message a particular decision or action sends. For example, Johnson & Johnson suspects their children’s Tylenol product may have been contaminated during production. Besides obvious repercussions like sick children, Johnson & Johnson must consider the symbolic consequences and consequences of secrecy. As a user of many J&J products, I would be greatly disturbed if I heard J&J did not publicly announce this immediately and recall all products off the shelves. The consequence to their secrecy: feelings of anger, deception, and mistrust from all stakeholders. The likelihood that I buy another J&J product is slim to none. This is harmful to J&J but maybe beneficial for me. When I considered this, I thought about act utilitarianism and the measures of benefit vs. harm. All I could think of was how difficult it would be to evaluate harms vs. benefits when considering everyone involved and all the types of consequences that exist in the long term.
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