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    Ethical Principles of Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics and Deontology

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    This is a detailed description of Ms. Cynthia Cooper’s whistleblowing at WorldCom, looking at ethical principles by renowned thinkers. Utilitarianism , Kant’s deontological theory, Virtue ethics and Bowie’s principles have been discussed in reference to this interesting case of exposing the accounting fraud at WorldCom. Ms. Cooper had correct intentions, when started having suspicion with the accounting activities at her company. Her team investigated deeply and collected solid evidence, which was in accordance to Bowie’s principles of Whistle blowing. Her work meant to expose the corrupt officials, and benefit the employees in the long run; which follows the utilitarian theory. She had a virtuous character, as she selflessly worker hard to get to the bottom of this mystery. She faced a lot of opposition , yet without worrying of the consequences , she reached to the conclusion of this saga; which was in line with the Kantian principles. This case illustrates how whistle-blowing in a multi-layered system, can have consequences on its stakeholders, and what should be the ideal way of doing it.

    I feel that Ms. Cooper and her team’s intentions were absolutely honest and truthful, but the methods they used to gain evidence may have different perspectives when applied to Kant’s theory, Virtue ethics and Utilitarian principles. The work initiated by Ms. Cooper and her team by investigating the accounting discrepancies led to the consequence of federal level investigation. This eventually rendered many employees jobless. The scams got exposed and many of the bosses are undergoing trial in courts. Ms. Cooper and her team were intricately involved with all the investigative agencies working on this high profile case. The company’s trading came to a halt at the stock exchange. Nasdaq delisted World com as a company on its list. If they would not have persuaded this route, the company would have continued to run as before.

    The money laundering would have continued, everybody would remain at peace, as they all got paid regularly, and in reality it did not affect anyone’s lives at that time. The dark times that were brought by Ms. Cooper and her team would have been delayed until another ‘Ms. Cooper’ joined the company. There was always a possibility that the matter would have never come to light. Life would have maintained its steady momentum; all the employees would have retained their job. But seeing it in a broader picture, I feel this bubble had to burst sooner or later. Secondly, the effect upon stake holders would be that they would have been unhappy . If they were employees; they would be hurt by the direction of the company accounts. If they were investors; they would be concerned about misuse of their money and wished if that they would have parked their money in a better place.

    Analyzing Ms. Cooper’s whistleblowing from Utilitarian perspective is one which defines the best moral action and also maximizes utility. Utilitarian always strives to make life better. Ms.Cooper’s work did follow the utilitarian principles, because she tried to make things better by resolving deeds done be the wrongdoers. She attempted to direct the finances of the company to correct use when she investigated doubtful accounts. Also, it made life for the other company workers and stake holders. Ms. Cooper did her moral duty to the company as a good whistle blower so we can conclude that she worked as a Utilitarian. As Utilitarianism guides us to do what produces the best consequences, so Ms. Cooper’s work was in the company’s best interests by preventing accounting frauds. Deontology comes from Greek literature where the word ‘Deon’ means duty. Kant’s Deontology theory states that we are bound and obligated to act in accordance with certain moral principles irrespective of the outcome.

    Kant would never have indulged in accounting discrepancies and would openly oppose those involved in such action not worrying about the consequences. It was a theory which relies on inputs rather than outcome. Kant says that we can all agree on a rule if it is guarded by morals. He also says that, if the maxim or rule governing our action cannot be universalized, then it is not acceptable. He refers to this universal rule as ‘Golden rule’. The practices at WorldCom by the executives are far away from morals, so using Kant’s categorical imperative, the practices at WorldCom cannot be universalized.The employees who cheated at WorldCom treated the company as a means and not as an end to get individual benefit at the at the liberty of the company’s money which is totally different from what Kant preaches.The Kantian formula states that people should not use others as means to an end, rather solely should be treated as ends in themselves. Kant’s philosophy emphasizes that rational human beings always be treated as ends and not as means; which I feel is it completely in accordance with the fundamental principal of morality.

    ‘Some one was just using me’ is an an example of the above statement.At WorldCom, the corrupt officials who laundered money and did accounting frauds used the company and it’s employees in order to exploit money and load their personal bank accounts. My guess is that Ms. Cooper’s actions of whistle blowing would agree with Kantian principles but the method and technique followed by Ms. Cooper of working late at night, secretly finding information and being in the fear of being discovered by the senior officials that they were up to this operation, was not in concordance with Kant’s teachings. Kant says that the moral worth of an action is determined by human will.Goodwill is appreciated by acting on moral duty. Kant would not have agreed to Ms.Cooper’s secret mode of operation for collecting evidence, even for a good cause.

    Kant believes that emotions and future consequences are inferior to the status of moral action; which I feel is the aspect that sets apart Ms. Cooper’s ideology of work. He would not agree with Ms. Coopers action, instead he would go on to say that Ms. Cooper should have done it the honest way or the Kantian way. Virtue ethics explains the role of character and virtue. Aristotle formulated this theory 2250 years ago which we call as virtue ethics today. Virtue ethics is different from Kant’s deontological theory in ways that it does not look at the rules nor it looks at the consequences instead it considers internal motivations as strong basis. Virtue ethics gives some rules into a persons behavior and makes the behavior more efficient. To obtain a good virtuous character, a human being should do the right actions, have a good character, do the right things.

    Considering Ms. Cooper’s character I feel Ms.Cooper time and again was obstructed by her fellow employees as she took the right path of collecting evidence and trying to expose the scams in the company. She was once told to delay the investigation but she refused; this reflects her character and how ethically correct Ms. Cooper was. At every step, she was committed in venturing deeper into details to expose the reality and did not worry about the consequences. I feel that Ms.Cooper’s personality is a great example of selflessness, as she went out of the way to save the company from grave financial losses, in the bigger picture. Only a virtuous person thinks and performs like this, without thinking of her own safety and job security.

    I feel she is a role model here for other employees, everyone working there owes this kind of virtuous behavior towards its company. It is a moral duty to perform as a utilitarian so that all the stakeholders of the company benefit. Neglecting such adversities by others in the company makes the company more fragile. Ms.Cooper worked as a Utilitarian following the path of morals, providing maximum utility and benefit for the company by trying to prevent accounting discrepancies in the company. Considering Bowie’s principle, I feel that her actions were right and with a proper motive. Bowie says there should be proper use of internal channels for whistle blowing. A utilitarian approach would support this thought as it will be most beneficial for the company. Bowie’s principles share the emphasis on evidence with Utilitarian theory, pinpointing the corrupt employees. Bowie’s thoughts describe about assessment of severity and urgency of the problem.

    In Utilitarianism too, severity and urgency can be thought of as equally important as it will lead to improved and quicker resolution of the losses, and provide maximum benefit to the company.I feel that Ms. Cooper followed the principles of virtue ethics by displaying exemplary selflessness and ethical approach at work, which is found in a person of virtuous character. Upon reflecting Bowie’s five principles, I feel that her motive was appropriate, she included the use of proper channels, although she was unsuccessful in that venture because she faced a lot of opposition to unveil the truth. She collected sufficient evidence in accordance with Bowie’s principle. There was no doubt about her virtuous acts, but this path was time consuming, and did not reach its end as fast as it would have following Kantian principles.

    According to the Kantian perspective, Kant would have opposed all of those involved accounting discrepancies without thinking twice about the consequences. Comparing it with Bowie’s principle, I feel Kant and Bowie’s principle both would have a common motive and would share this theology.Bowie’s principle says there should be proper use of internal channels and Kant would agree to it. Whistle blower should have proper evidence, this is what Bowie says but Kant would object to it and say that irrespective of the evidence action should be taken when there is a hint of wrong doing. Accessing the severity and urgency of the problem is Bowie’s principle and Kant would agree to it.

    Bowie’s last principle of proceeding with whistle blowing only if it will succeed in blocking danger or evil, if it does not protect anyone against these existing harms , then there is no role of whistle blowing. I feel that Kant would have agreed with this principle in his philosophy as well. To summarize, these various thinkers established great set of guidelines to follow for whistle-blowing, and Ms.Cooper’s case is a very interesting example which follows most of these principles very closely.


    1. Secker B. The Appearance of Kant’s Deontology in Contemporary Kantianism: Concepts of Patient Autonomy in Bioethics. J Med Philosophy (1999) 24 (1) p 43-66.
    2. Robertson M, Walter GA. Critical Reflection on Utilitarianism as the Basis for Psychiatric Ethics. Journal of Ethics in Mental Health (2007) p 2(1) 1-4.
    3. Harman G. Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.New Series, Vol. 99 (1999), pp. 315-331.

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