Deontology and Utilitarianism

Human being’s actions revolve around ethics. This is because humans do not carry out actions for the sake of it but do so with particular intentions. The action has its consequences whether foreseen or not. This phenomenon makes people to have second thoughts before attempting any activity that may lead to future regrets. Those who ignore this golden rule of looking before one leaps live to tell the repercussions. The place of morality in the society is therefore very crucial. However, ethics should not be viewed as a manual containing answers on how people ought to act. They are merely a search for the right kind of morals

Despite all the existing ethical theories, humans continue to make decisions that have contr4oversial implications that would have otherwise be evaded if these normative theories are factored in. A case in question is that of the Bank of America decision to refuse to process payments for the Wikileaks organization, an internet whistle-blower. Whether that action was the appropriate given the circumstances remains a mystery. This essay embarks on exploring the ethical perspectives to the firm’s action by considering the take of two normative theories; utilitarianism and deontology.

Julian Assange, a 39-year-old Australian-born is the genius behind Wikileaks. The website endeavors to reveal classified information governments and corporations. Since its official inception in 2007, Wikileaks has unraveled large amounts of dataset on various issues like the secret Afghan and Iraq war documents. These megaleaks have been termed as the largest of their kind in the history of classified militia security breaches. It is such reveala6ion that have made Assange an enemy of some-especially the authorities- while continuing to receive worldwide acclamation in his endeavor to disseminate top secrets on a global scale. Apart from the political scene, Wikileaks has embarked on a holistic approach in its operations with the financial sector being not spared either (Kazz, 2010).

In late November 2010, Assange, in an interview by Forbes magazine, revealed that he was holding a megaleak about an American bank that he declined to name then. However, a year later, he had hinted that in deed the bank in question was the Bank of America, the biggest financial institution in the US (Forbes, 29 November, 2010). He added that he ‘was sitting on a 5 Gigabytes of information from a top executives compute drive. When questioned of the implications of such a revelation, Assange was quick that the contents were fatal enough to ‘bring down a bank or two’. In the wake of such claims, the Bank of America constituted a committee of 15-20 members bestowed with the task of authenticating the accusations and doing  a ‘soul-search’ of their computer systems to establish a feasibility of such leaks (The New York Times Opinion Pages, December 25, 2010).

The operations ended with the bank buying Web addresses that could prove damaging to the corporation or even its top officials. Late December in 2010, the Bank of America joined other financial companies the likes of PayPal, MasterCard and Visa in halting the processing of payments for Wikileaks citing the illegality of the latter’s operations (ComputerWorld, 30th November2010). Does this move compromise the business code of ethics of serving indiscriminately? On the other hand, is Wikileaks unjustified in its espionage activities on this mammoth financial corporation? Well, it is a question of perception -looking each action from the lenses of normative case theories will attempt to answer this dilemma.

Case normative theories are based on ethical principles. In order for the ethical theory to be useful, it has to be aimed towards achieving a common set of goals. These goals are the ethical principles. Ethical principles include beneficence and respect for autonomy. The principle of beneficence holds respect for autonomy that ethical theories should endeavor to achieve the greatest amount of good because people benefit from the most good. In the case of autonomy, the principle stipulates that the ethical theory should give room for people to rein over themselves and be able to make decisions that affect their lives. Other ethical principles like justice state that the ethical theories should prescribe actions that are to all the parries involved. The last ethical principle that should guide the prescriptions of an ethical theory is that of least harm. According to this principle, a party should opt to do the least harm possible and met the harm to the least number of people if it is impossible to avoid the harm (Rawls, 1971).

What then are these ethical theories with such well-meaning motives and how are they applicable in the case of the standoff between the Bank of America and the internet whistleblower, Wikileaks? Ethical theories are foundations of ethical analysis that enable people to make the most informed and ethically correct resolutions in case of an ethical dilemma. There a number of ethical theories but the ones that will be dealt in analyzing the case at hand are the deontology and the utilitarianism theories. Each theory will be explained in isolation as well as its relation to the decision of the BofA to halt its services to Wikileaks.

The first of the two theories to give a limelight on this controversy is the deontology theory. This theory holds that people should abide by their duties and obligations in case of an ethical dilemma (Darwall, 2003). This means that executing ones line of duty is ethically correct. It is paramount to note that this theory does not factor in how good the action’s consequences may be but is concerned with whether the action itself is illegal or not. In the case of deontologists, good comes after right. One must always worry of the right first. Simply put, this theory is based on some constraints that revolve around dos and don’ts ant its sympathizers decide what is right by examining the act itself.

In the case of the Bank of America’s failure to provide financial services to Wiileaks, the move is ethically supported by the deontological theory. This is because, according to the corporation, it is in their line of duty to protect and uphold the security and welfare of the company at whatever cost-even if it means sacrificing a single menacing organization like the Wikileaks to salvage this. In other words, the welfare of the corporation is above any implication their move may have on an external player. This theory also borrows from the ethical principle of autonomy. In this regards, the BofA was justified in halting its services to Wikileaks since they the former are free to make decisions that affect their lives in the case of an ethical dilemma like this one. Their decision is not tied to any repercussion that the second party in the picture may suffer as a result of the action (Kazz, 2010)

In the case of Wikileaks, they too have a line of argument to follow in their justification of their activities. First of all, it is within their line of duty to expose any information that they think the public may find useful in the case for a transparency. In addition, Wikileaks will be acting within the prescribed legal framework if they release the megaleaks because even the federal law allows it. This beats the claim that the top executives had on the Assange’s organization that its operations are illegal- after all their mandate is to expose classified information. In the case of autonomy, the Bank of America should also not meddle with the business of Wikileaks by threatening them with a halt of their services to them. This follows the goal of Wikileaks is not to make BofA happy or be precautious not to harm it but rather to execute its duties as an internet whistle blower to corruption cases and those of misuse of misuse of office without fear or favoritism-not even in the face of a giant financial corporation like BofA (Darwall, 2003).

The above arguments on the deontological theory point out clearly that both parties are justified in their actions. Does that mean that there is no way out to this standoff? No. This leads to the next case normative theory to be examined which is the utilitarianism. John Stuart Mill, the philosopher who advanced this theory argued that an act is ethically right if it only results to the highest utility of the available alternative actions. An act is thus considered right if it produces the greatest amount of pleasure and the least harm. It is evident that this theory derives prescriptions from the ethical principles of least harm and beneficence (Riley, 1988). It does not matter whether or not the action to be taken in the line of duty of the two parties as was the case of the deontology theory. The emphasis is on the good derived from the consequences.

Alluding this to the Wikileaks and BofA saga, this implies that before the two parties took the steps they took, they should have had a preconception of the consequences. Wikileaks should have considered its decision to publicly make such claims while BofA should have considered its decision to halt its services to them. It is by so doing that a consensus would have been arrived early enough to avert the current situation. This is because there are profound implications of the decisions taken by the two rivals (Rawls, 1971). In the case of Wikileaks, the megaleaks may lead to a collapse of the financial giant and thus harm the lives of many Americans who are employed by the ban as well as affecting the entire globe’s financial status alongside the reputation of the implicated executives in claims that may only end up being speculative (The Market Oracle 29 November 2010). On the hand, the halting of the services to Wikileaks by BofA denies well meaning citizens who are following all the necessary legal procedures to access the financial services.

The case of the Bank of America is nevertheless a special one since it is only taking defense measures to a speculative situation. Since Wikileaks has not yet released the megaleaks but only made claims of such large amounts of information being in their custody, it would have helped for the two parties to hold round table talks on the issue and come to a consensus on the best possible way to go about the matter without harming each other or other spectator parties unnecessary. Otherwise the Bank of America is unjustified will be only exercising its egoism in the political arena by victimizing an institution working within the legal framework. Won’t it?