Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Do the Ethically Right Thing!

In the controversial and critically acclaimed film, “Do The Right Thing,” Ossie Davis’ character, “Da Mayor,” tells Spike Lee’s character, “Mookie,” “Always do the right thing.” (Lee, 1989) This short, yet powerful statement more than sets the tone for this classic movie, but it has more than helped define how I try and live my life, personally and professionally. Yet, when I look at my own ethical framework, I am left to wonder what else goes into my personal decision-making process. Am I guided by theories of virtue, deontology, or utilitarianism? Do I have a detailed plan that will help me during ethically challenging times? These are just some of the questions that I will attempt to answer in this post.

The Virtue, Deontological and Utilitarianism theories have shaped decision making for many years. These aforementioned theories are all solid theories, but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Virtue theory is rooted in a simple thought of right versus wrong and serves as the strength of that theory. (Trianosky, 1990, p. 335) Yet, the virtue is hurt by the extremes of the theory. The strength of deontology can be found in the fact that this theory asks people to consider their professional responsibilities above all other things. This strength is undermined by the fact that personal life may suffer at such a request. (Morales, 2010) Utilitarianism looks at the greater good but fails to take into consideration those that may be affected negatively by the decision. (Six Religions, 2014)

Good or bad, these theories combined are very useful in helping people establish a decision-making process. The decision-making process is an excellent playbook for how professionals should conduct themselves. By using the decision-making process in all decisions, professionals set a standard for their actions and avoid being labeled as showing favoritism. The decision-making process should have six steps. Step one addresses your ethical awareness. Step two seeks to determine if your situation is truly an ethical issue. Moving forward, step three examines the legal viability of the situation and whether if legal counsel is needed. Step four can be described as the war games process. All probable actions and outcomes are examined thoroughly. Then step five seeks to pinpoint which decision-making theory would be best suited to guide your decision. Finally, step six is the execution of your plan by seeking out the chain of command, recommending an ethical decision and embracing the process.

For me, the best example of this process occurred while I was working at a small predominantly white institution in Mississippi. The incoming freshmen students at Private University were giving the chance to take summer courses at PU. While there for the summer, the students would partake in college coursework and leadership development. During one summer, I witnessed some of the students breaking curfew and drinking alcoholic beverages. Considering that all of these students were underage, I worked through my decision-making process in a timely fashion. The students had broken the camp rules and multiple city ordinances. Due to the fact that the students were underage and our responsibility, I determined that we had an ethical and legal issue on our hands. Because of those aforementioned legal issues, we sought legal counsel on our options. Multiple courses of actions were discussed from expulsion to academic probation, but eventually, we settled on probation and a fine. We took a Utilitarian approach to this process because we understood their backgrounds. We felt as if we could reach these young people and help them that the greater good would be served. To this date, the majority of that class has graduated and most did so with scholarships and/or earned fellowships for graduate school. It is my belief that by viewing the greater good of our society and the futures of those students that we were punishing them in that moment and not for the rest of their lives.

As the video above asks, "Does the end justify the means?" It can be argued that the answer to the aforementioned question depends on the value of the end result. Currently, the United States of America is led by a man that believes the end justifies the means, but only if the end is in his best interest. The electorally elected Marmalade Misogynist is walking to the beat of his own warped philosophy. A philosophy that twists the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill into ill-shaped policies, actions, and decisions. One is left wondering how Bentham and Mill would critically dissect the forty-fifth President of these United States. 
Yet, it is the belief of this writer that Bentham and Mill would be more critical of the people than Toupee Fiasco. Now, that does not mean that the Bankruptcy Whisperer is without blame, but rather he and others like him have benefited from making the masses believe that the greatest good is not for the greatest number, but rather the elite. The people have become so divided that common sense is failing to prevail. Or as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

So like King, I too am hopeful. I am hopeful that the America that I know now will not be the America that I leave my son and daughters. I am hopeful that our moral compass, though off now, can be readjusted and we are set along the path of moral righteousness once more. I am hopeful that the greatest good is once more for the greatest number. As a society, we would be wise to remember the words of the great pragmatist William James, "act as if what you do makes a difference." For, in the end, that difference may be all that matters and in the end, we all matter to each other. 

As of this post, I have 8 runs. 

Lee, S. (Director). (1989). Do The Right Thing [Motion picture]. USA: Universal Studios.

Morales, E. (2010, December). Basics of Deontology [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVARdM93zsw

Six Religions. (2014, February). Moral Philosophy - Deontology Vs Utilitarianism [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDMedWiZ_Iw

Trianosky, G. (1990). What is Virtue Ethics All About? American Philosophical Quarterly27(4), 335-344. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20014344?uid=3739912&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21105118314143


  1. Welcome to the prison of hope! If enough of us are incarcerated here, we might just be able to bust out.

    What would Mill, Bentham, James, Dewey and others who placed such high hopes in that "really vital question... What is life eventually to make of itself?" make of the current state of politics in our world? I'm quite sure they'd be appalled, Mill and Dewey in particular for the false turns We the People have taken on the road of democracy. But I'm also confident that, like you and me, they'd not abandon all hope. One of my favorite contemporary authors, Michael Chabon, says something I know you as a parent of young children will fervently endorse:

    "If you don’t believe in the Future, unreservedly and dreamingly, if you aren’t willing to bet that somebody will be there to cry when the Clock finally, ten thousand years from now,runs down, then I don’t see how you can have children. If you have children, I don’t see how you can fail to do everything in your power to ensure that you win your bet, and that they, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren, will inherit a world whose perfection can never be accomplished by creatures whose
    imagination for perfecting it is limitless and free."


    1. P.S. "The clock" in question is the so-called "clock of the Long Now"... an audacious undertaking, designed to symbolize and encourage our hope for the long-term future of life for our children's children's children...


    2. In the words of my mother, "You ain't neva' lied." I can hear her saying those words about your response, Dr. O. The audacity of hope drives any parent and seemingly propels the wheels of intelligent thought in humans, especially philosophers.

  2. "It is my belief that by viewing the greater good of our society and the futures of those students that we were punishing them in that moment and not for the rest of their lives."
    Too bad there isn't more of that.

  3. I just recently worked on a work from Dr. Cornell West and he went into great detail about his hope and how he is eternally hopeful, yet not optimistic. I found it interesting that you chose to be "hopeful" instead of "optimistic". Oh and "Toupee Fiasco" very clever... Shawn Carter would be proud and of course the Chicago native Lupe himself as well.

    1. Vega,

      Hope never dies, but optimism ebbs and flows. My hope for a better world never fades away, but my optimism in the Titans...well, moving on. I believe that is the essence of Dr. West's words. Hope is reserved for the real. Optimism is reserved for that which lacks the real.

  4. Chap,

    Mark Twain was quoted as saying "Always do right. This will surprise some people and astonish the rest," but as you have demonstrated in your essay doing right is not always as simple as choosing between to clear cut options. Do I shoot someone just because I don't like the way they look? The answer should be simply no. But what if they are pointing a gun at me or at a member of my family? Now I have interjected a dilemma. Most people would say yes because it would be self-defense, but what if it was a five year old little child who had picked up the gun that his parent had left laying around and it was loaded and the safety was off. May we always have clear cut choices, but I know that is not always possible and I like the various ways you have proposed for a decision process. Hopefully, we will have time to used them to arrive at a good decision. I must say what truly scares me about President Trump is that he believes he is always right and has programmed his mind to defend that even when a reasonable person would recognize the inconsistency of his statements sometimes separate by a few hours. Your last video is appropriate as he attempts to out bully the bully from North Korea and that usually ends badly for someone but not always the bully. I just wish we could put them in a boxing ring and let the two of them settle it.

    Take care and best wishes in Houston.

  5. well said there sometimes is no clear cut answer to do the right thing. As you have said what if a five year old child is pointing a gun at you? well this is something to think about I suppose each person will have to make a choice, and the North Korea problem I hope and pray no country on this earth ever decides to have nuclear warfare!