Kantian Ethics And Rule Utilitarianism

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James Liang is one of the Volkswagen engineers who helped to deceive the United States government as to the emissions produced by Volkswagen’s diesel engines. The Volkswagen team built the diesel engines in 2006, but failed to meet the American emissions standards. Instead of delaying their launch in America or redesigning the engines, the engineers chose to include software that recognized emissions testing and changed the settings of the engine to meet the standards during tests. When not being tested, these engines produced up to 40 times the allowed emissions. Liang has been condemned for his actions, but to understand what makes such actions ethical or otherwise, one must apply an ethical theory to them; in this case, Kantian ethics and rule utilitarianism. The proper application of Kant’s theory to this issue requires an understanding of Kant’s method for determining the morality of actions. Kant proposes that only when the will is aligned with duty can actions be truly good. When Kant refers to the will, he defines it as that which drives the actions of a rational being. Therefore, one’s will determines one’s decisions. The term “duty” also requires some explanation. One’s duty in a given situation is derived from the relevant maxim. A maxim is a statement about how one should behave, such as “I should not steal.” Kant’s theory rejects any exceptions to a rule. A maxim must propose a rule to live by without reservation. Kant also provides a method for one to determine whether one should act in accordance with a certain maxim; one must test it using the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative requires that one consider a world where every decision ever made was based on that maxim. If the maxim produces a world ... ... middle of paper ... ...aining these engines. Since he was directly involved with promoting a product under a false premise, he violated the maxim “I must not lie.” Therefore, Kant would condemn his actions. Also note that Liang’s actions violated laws. However, if one applies the categorical imperative to the maxim “I must obey laws,” a rational being can only adhere to this maxim if the laws are just. Since this maxim cannot be universalized without exception, it is not a duty, as defined by Kant. In fact, there are many situations where Kantian ethics would require one to break a law. Although duty ethics and rule utilitarianism are based on different, and often opposing principles, they both condemn the actions of James Liang for similar reasons. Both ethical systems condemn lies and deception, which was at the core of the issue with the Volkswagen engine emissions testing scandal.
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