Moral Deliberation: Anita’s Dilemma

This activity provides an opportunity to develop your moral perception and become familiar with the process of supporting moral judgments with moral reasons. Read the vignette below and then engage in the activities that follow.
A start-up company has recently installed a new model of air conditioning unit in the homes of hundreds of customers. The air conditioning unit, which is a hybrid model that draws power from solar and electrical sources, is advertised as being the most energy efficient model on the market. Anita, an engineer who worked on the prototype of the air conditioning unit, recognizes that the unit might have been marketed and sold to the public prematurely because a device within the unit that alternates between solar and electrical power sources sometimes fails.
Joan, Anita’s boss, assures her that the particular device in question is already in the process of being fixed and that the problem will be corrected in the already sold units before the general public becomes aware of it. Anita has already received several phone calls about the new units because customers are complaining that they are paying more for their electric bills than was expected. Anita informs Joan about the customers’ complaints. Joan responds by telling Anita that the problem will be corrected shortly. Joan claims that there is no reason to cause customers to worry needlessly.
Joan suggests that informing customers will only cause the public to lose confidence in the company, which would be disastrous for the new company’s future. Joan instructs Anita to remain silent about the problem and to tell customers that a service representative from the company will check their units in the near future. Anita wonders whether to follow Joan’s instructions.

Part 1. Moral Perception

Each of the statements below is an example of a potential moral rule (R), moral principle (P), or moral value (V) applicable to the provided case. In the process of moral perception your goal is simply to identify what may be relevant to the case – what some reasonable perspective may believe is relevant. So, regardless of whether you believe any of the following are in fact values, rules, or principles, your task is simply to identify what each is attempting to represent, given its structure.

___ 1. Public safety

___ 2. Engineers should take responsibility for their products

___ 3. An employee should generally defer judgment to their superiors

___ 4. Engineers must report any company wrongdoing to the appropriate authorities

___ 5. Freedom from anxiety

___ 6. Product manufacturers are obligated to disclose all known flaws with their products

___ 7. Product manufacturers may withhold information about their product so long as there is no threat to safety

___ 8. Honesty

___ 9. Product manufacturers should correct product flaws that may interfere with a core goal of the product

___ 10. Engineers should emphasize resource conservation in their designs

___ 11. Companies are only morally obligated to disclose product information required by the law

___ 12. Transparency

___ 13. Engineers should privilege the interests of the public over the interests of their employer

___ 14. Loyalty

___ 15. Employees are morally responsible for their actions, even when simply obeying orders from superiors

The correct labeling for the above statements can be found at the end of this page.[1]

Part 2. Moral Deliberation

Once you have a reasonable grasp of the morally relevant features of a situation, you should consider them all together to help you make an informed and supportable decision. Below you are provided with 4 option for how Anita should respond to the situation. Choose whichever you think is best and then work to construct at least 2 moral reasons that would support your option. These moral reasons should appeal to the values, principles, and/or rules you identified above. Now, you should consider which of the supposed values/rules/principles are in fact values/rules/principles that we should consider.

  1. Anita should inform customers of the issue with the product
  2. Anita should inform customers that a representative will check units in the near future, but not disclose the issue
  3. Anita should report John and her company to appropriate regulatory authorities
  4. Anita should not inform customers about the issue or the near future service checks

Part 3. Deeper Moral Deliberation

It is important to be able to support your choices with moral reasons. But it is also important to understand why you may be wrong – why others may reasonably disagree with you. So, now you should attempt to construct at least 1 moral reason for why your choice in Part 2 is the wrong choice. Again, your moral reason(s) should appeal to applicable values, rules, and/or principles.

  1. 1. V; 2. P; 3. P; 4. R; 5. V; 6. R; 7. P; 8. V; 9. R/P [debatable]; 10. P; 11. R; 12. V; 13. P; 14. V; 15. P


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The Primacy of the Public by Marcus Schultz-Bergin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.