Happiness is the best thing that an individual can have in life. One cannot find it unless he or she has a meaningful life. Immanuel Kant reveals how people need to fill their life with activities. Work is part of such activities that Immanuel Kant refers. He claims that work should be a beneficial career that has a rationale. In the contemporary age, people have chosen careers that have a sole interest of making money while not considering the business environment and their personal interest towards the career. Nonetheless, empirical evidence and theoretical approaches have indicated that life satisfaction is not significantly affected by the amount of income. Other facets such as family and friends come in handy. With time, individuals get exhausted with the career, although they remain enslaved in their occupations because they are left with no viable option. Poor choice of career by individuals affects the entire economy. Besides, it derails development. Therefore, individuals have a responsibility to make moral choices when deciding the career they desire to pursue. This paper discusses some of the ethical choices that people should consider when deciding their occupations. The premise is that since work is an important element of life, it contributes to one’s happiness.
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Making Ethical Career Choices
Before determining how one can make an ethical selection when choosing a career, it is imperative to understand the meaning of a career. With respect to this discussion, a career refers to a prolonged project for a person’s life. A profession may be in different fields such as law, entrepreneurship, certified benevolence, medicine, and entertainment among others. It is not necessarily that one earns income from his or her career. One’s career becomes part of his or her life. It often helps him or her to achieve a particular purpose. A career involves mental, physical, and emotional investment for the pursuit of being successful. One may be required to live in a particular location, behave in a particular manner, and/or receive a certain knowledge and skills to work on his or her career. These terms may alter one’s lifestyle by making it worse or better than before. Notably, career may not determine every component in an individual’s life. Indeed, it limits the manner in which a person may prosper or behave. Hence, career choice cannot be disregarded in the group of the main decisions that a human being makes. As Chan, Fung, and Yau confirm, the type of job that an individual chooses can answer the popular Socratic question of the type of life that an individual should live1.
People should note that their career choice might affect their future life since they will have invested their energy and time. Thus, anyone who is deciding on which career to pick should note that his or her decision might affect his or her future multiple years. Nonetheless, a question may be raised on whether it is compulsory to have a career. One may claim that there are people who do various businesses in life and end up becoming richer and happier than those who chose a particular career. Furthermore, others may choose a career in crime and evil things, which please them. However, careers can be used to meet moral values of the society because the energy and time that people invest in a given career can be used to transform many lives, including the life of the pursuer. Hence, careers can become a channel of self-identification and/or reaching out to the community. The problem of choosing career exists in a society that has a range of opportunities. Hence, as Shafer-Landau confirms, an individual is forced to choose a particular career out of several options unlike in a society that is characterized by only one career2.
People should choose careers that make them happy because happiness has been found to be one of the main components of wellbeing. It affects the manner in which people interact with others in the society, their conduct, and the way in which they resolve challenges that emerge in life. Nonetheless, people’s environment and challenges that they go through affect their happiness. A prosperous life only requires three things, namely friends, financial stability, and liberty. Anyone who requires more than these three elements is brainwashed. Other scholars such as Shafer-Landau have specified five major needs in life that one’s career must satisfy. An occupation should respond to physiological, security, realization and participation, esteem, and self-accomplishment needs. People get utility from their careers, which then lead to life satisfaction. The implication is that unemployed people are unhappy because they experience depression, low self-esteem, and apprehension. Income only plays a partial role in happiness building, although it is the ultimate source of happiness. Thus, it should not be the main reason for choosing a job as Ugwuoke confirms3.
The role of money in creating happiness is minute. This claim can be easily explained by the fact that the standard of happiness of citizens is not in tandem with the GNP of a country. Over the years, theorists have developed philosophies on how to reach ethical career decisions. Some of these theories encourage choosing a career that promotes charity. For instance, according to Shafer-Landau, consequentialist theorists assert that it is wise for people to choose careers that have high returns so that people can get enough resources to assist others who are in need4. Natural law theories as well as virtue ethics encourage the need to consider character development in career choice such that people should prefer positive-oriented careers to negatively motivated occupations. In essence, virtue ethics scholars claim that human dignity should be one of the main considerations when choosing a career. The subsequent discussion will give a deeper insight on the theories that address the choosing of a career on ethical grounds.
Consequentialism and Career Choice
The consequentialist ethical approach maintains that a conduct can only be declared good or bad based on the results that an individual demonstrates. One of the popular theories under this approach is the utilitarian theory, which holds that people should do acts that promote the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of individuals. For instance, in the case of a job, it should benefit the highest number of people such as relatives and citizens. Other theories under consequentialism include ethical egoism, which holds that consequences are to be evaluated in line with the profit that an actor gains from the conduct. Consequentialist principles normally address three elements that pertain to morality. The first element is the principle of right. It claims that an act is right if it promotes good. Secondly, it defines what is good as any act, which causes happiness, brings wealth and authority, and promotes impressive character. Thirdly, it raises the questions on whose goodness is relevant, whether that of the society or an individual as Ciulla confirms5.
According to Birsch, under utilitarianism, one simply computes the advantages and expenses of doing a particular action6. He or she then evaluates the outcomes. If the action benefits a great number of people, it is deemed good. In essence, utilitarianism can be termed as a monistic ethical theory because it mostly focuses on mental satisfaction. Nonetheless, divergent opinions have been raised concerning the source of satisfaction, thus causing the emergence of other utilitarian subgroups. Utilitarianism is largely accepted in the western culture because of the development of science, technology, Christianity, and egalitarianist ideologies of love.
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The description of good and evil is indefinite due to the existing conflict among utilitarians, namely hedonistic, eudaimonistic, and ideal utilitarians. Hedonistic utilitarians hold that the good or evil can be determined by evaluating the pleasure it causes. Hedonistics such as Sidwick claim that one should not strive to be happy. However, people should do other things whose success can trigger happiness in them. Conversely, eudemonistic utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill asserts that it is more preferable for human beings to be dissatisfied rather than feigning contentment. Eudemonistics equate good to the happiness it causes. On the other hand, ideal utilitarianism holds that human goods such as relationships and knowledge are of greater significance than pleasure. Notably, as Birsch confirms, utilitarians commonly agree that an action is perceived to be good if it helps in accomplishing people’s aspirations or needs7.
Another point of conflict among the utilitarians lies in their definition of utility. This conflict has led to the development of three fractions, namely act utilitarians, rule utilitarianism, and general utilitarianism. Act utilitarians reason that an act is only good if its utility is greater than the available options. Similarly, Jeremy Bentham observes that when determining the moral standard of an act, one should not consider the entire world but rather the affected individuals. In the case of rule utilitarianism, the argument is that utility doctrine should not be viewed from an individual action but instead a collection of actions. Most utilitarians subscribe to the latter thought. Furthermore, according to Birsch, general utilitarians assert that people should consider the outcome if everybody chooses to imitate their actions8. As Birsch confirms, to counter these reservations, utilitarian scholars have claimed that ethics is created for man, not man for ethics.
This consequentialist approach holds that people should invest in ideas that result to the greatest good for themselves. It is generally divided into four categories, namely mental egoism where people have no option other than being self-seeking, personal egoism that states that a person has the choice to be self-centered, and personal ethical egoism where a person seeks to ensure that other people serve his or her personal interest. Differences may emerge concerning what ‘a good conduct’ entails. However, an excellent behavior is expected to attract excellence, authority, self-identity, and pleasure. Some of the ancient thinkers who played a major in the development of this ethical theory include Plato and Aristotle. However, according to Shafer-Landau, it was perfected by the likes of Cicero and Thomas Hobbes9.
Ethical egoism has been a reservation because it causes a scenario that is against the moral principles. Hence, it implies that one should not consider the interest of the society. In the case of career choice, the ethical egoists find it logical to do something that brings no benefit to the society but to oneself. If ethical egoists endorse this idea, it will then be misleading because socio-biological scholars have observed that man is not self-seeking. People become happier when they satisfy the needs of others in the society. Furthermore, ethical egoism cannot also operate in a public forum because it is impractical where everyone is self-centered. Nonetheless, as Ciulla confirms, in post-modernistic society where people are deemed answerable to the society, ethical egoism remains relevant10.
Traditional scholars have often subscribed to the thought that people should pick careers that promote charity. Observers have noted that individuals who chose to work in charitable organization can easily be replaced. Hence, it is preferable for them to be solely professional philanthropists. Consequentialist theorists confirm that the action can only be considered good or bad by analyzing the resulting pleasure. An individual has an opportunity to choose what can lead to either pleasure or pain. With this notion in mind, people should choose whatever leads to the highest pleasure. Hence, according to consequentialists, when one is choosing a career, he or she should evaluate what it may result in at the end. One should choose a career that will result in the greatest happiness. In essence, it is more preferable to become a humanitarian, rather than working in a charity organization because the former has the best gain. However, according to Birsch, if many people opt to become philanthropists, the society might become deficient of charity workers11.
Deontological Ethics and Career Choice
This approach focuses on action. It departs from the idea of comparing an action with the results that it brings. According to deontological thinkers, a conduct is termed as good or evil not based on its results but rather based on its attributes. This nature of reasoning is borrowed from Judeo-Christian and Greek Stoic culture. The attributes include respect to human rights. Thus, an action that contradicts human rights will be deemed wrong. However, according to Ciulla, difficulties will arise in terms of applying this principle where one has to balance contradicting rights12.
Under act deontologism, deontologists have developed two approaches that people demonstrate when making decisions. They include intuitionist and decisionist techniques. Intuitionist approach involves using one conscience when deciding whether a conduct is right or evil. On the other hand, under decisionist approach, no action is termed right. Rule deontologism orates that people should act according to particular set moral principles. These principles may be pluralistic or monistic in nature. W. D. Ross enlisted some of those moral principles that people should adhere to when making decisions. They include individual growth, devotion, openhandedness, righteousness, promise keeping, and non-malfeasance as Shafer-Landau observes13.
Immanuel Kant, a rule deontologist, argues against consequentialist theory stating that it transforms morality into theoretical imperatives instead of unconditional ones. His philosophy is in tandem with the Ten Commandments. His rules of ethics consider morality a constant and universal element that comes before the performance of an act. They should develop out of experience. Man has no option but to adhere to the rules of morality. He or she has the obligation to do so. An action can be considered moral if it passes the three tests. Furthermore, Kant emphasizes the need to treat other individuals as rational beings. People should view everyone as ends, rather than a means of getting to the end. As rational beings, human beings should be in a position to create universal rules without necessarily depending on external powers such as God or traditions as Birsch confirms14.
Another concept under deontologist approach is ethical relativism. This concept holds that where two cultures clash on ethical issues, both of them can be correct because different societies are divergent in nature and/or are driven by disparate principles. The concept denounces the existence of universal principles. Besides, it encourages people to tolerate the moral beliefs of others. Some ethical relativists subscribe to the subjective thought that principles are personal and that other members of the society should tolerate what one considers moral. Ethical relativism is growing in terms of popularity where many scholars assert that every society’s moral standards should be evaluated using its own principles. Nonetheless, it has also received reservations because it becomes difficult to compare one person to another upon making morals subjective. It promotes individuality, thus making judgment of the accepted social morals difficult. According to Birsch, it encourages civil disobedience.
Also known the ethics of love, this deontological approach asserts that the sole ethical code is love, specifically the love of human beings and the creator. The remaining principles are attached to the latter code. Although scholars claim that agapism should be categorized under deontological approach. Ciulla says that other scholars view it as substitute for all moral concepts15. Moral ethical theories should help professionals in making decisions such that they do not harm the consumers of their services. Similarly, when choosing a career, one should consider the ethical stands of the deontological thinkers. One cannot join a crime simply because he or she is going to have the greatest benefit from that particular occupation. It should bring honor to the pursuer as well as the society as a whole. Nonetheless, some individuals still love to choose a career that brings the highest profit to the society without considering the means as long as they believe that the end will be positive. Furthermore, since human beings are naturally egoistic, they will pursue careers that benefit them. However, a question can be raised, ‘is the move a moral decision?’ Despite the various theories that can guide one in making an ethical career choice, this subsequent section will explain how one can settle on a particular career using the natural law ethics.
Making a Career Choice using Natural Law Theory
According to Chan, Fung, and Yau, natural law theory as propounded by ancient thinkers such as Aquinas asserts that natural is provided by a supreme being and is controls humankind16. Right actions are only those actions that in line with ‘the good’. Aquinas the manner in which one can know when he/she is making the right decision. One of those methods is through using virtue ethics approach. According to virtue ethics, an ethical life is that which is upright. Contrary to most ethical theories, it encourages people to be upright instead of establishing codes for evaluating the most ethical behaviors. For instance, if one picks a right action, he or she should anticipate that it might lead to a positive result. Therefore, if one decides to become a humanitarian in order to assist some poor families in Africa, he or she should not do it because it is the right choice but because of the anticipated good outcome. The fact that philanthropy is a right act to do should be the primary reason for one’s action while the outcomes remain secondary. Even if a right action fails, it will still be said that one did the right thing. Moreover, one might expect that the right thing will benefit the society and his or her personality as Ciulla observes17.
People should be in a position to evaluate and recognize what inspires them to a given action. Moreover, they should know the circumstances under which there might be an ethical dilemma if they act, and hence make an incorrect decision. Considering a scenario where one decides to become a humanitarian following the advice of people who tell him or her that it does not profit his or her community, the person is bound to receive adoration from the community. This situation implies that the individual will become philanthropic because he or she seeks to be praised by the society. In such a scenario, he or she is benevolent not because it is the right thing to do but because it leads to positive results as Ugwuoke asserts18.
One may claim that being philanthropic with the latter’s mindset does not alter the moral nature of humanitarian actions. However, in comparison with a humanitarian who decides to become generous out of selflessness, the benevolent person will be given a higher ethical standard than the former. Moreover, an individual who becomes a humanitarian simply because he or she seeks to get adoration from the society will be far much less than a charity worker who does his or her work altruistically. The case of self-centered philanthropist and altruistic charity workers objects the argument posed by consequentialists who venerate the need to cause happiness to the highest number of people. The application of the natural law theory seems to answer the question of whose action seems closest to an ethical good.
Evaluation of any intentions prior to performing an act or choosing an occupation will assist in picking the career with the ethical value. A person should always pick career that is contrary to the negative ethical inclination. It has to be in line with the positive moral attributes. The reason behind this claim is not simply that choosing negative moral ideas will cause bad ethical results, but that bad ethical ideas will contaminate one’s moral status. As Ugwuoke asserts, it is contrary to the right thing and thus will eventually have a negative effect to the society19.
Consider a situation where John wants to select between a charity worker and a humanitarian. Consider also that he has a negative ethical tendency of selfishness. John desires to be a philanthropist since it will enable him to benefit the society whilst gaining a status that he cannot get if he were just employed in a charity organization. Nonetheless, by being a charity worker, John knows that he will be more efficient, although he remains being a humanitarian because of his egoistic tendencies. If John goes against his most compelling negative moral attribute (selfishness ) to follows his most convincing positive ethical inclination (charity worker), he will have made a choice with the highest ethical standard. Making the right decision, as evidenced in this scenario, brings benefits to the community whilst also elevating an individual’s moral character as noted by Chan, Fung, and Yau20. This approach departs from the consequentialist thinking and ethical relativism whereby different people can make disparate decisions in a similar situation. Indeed, since people are bound to have different careers, it is expected that they will make different decisions that are in line with their personality. However, the process of making choices as presented in the natural law theory should remain constant.
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The Issue of Integrity and Human Dignity
People often choose actions based on charity work or integrity. As discussed above, charity emerges when people consider how their career is going to affect the society. When career involves looking at the pursuer, issues of integrity come in. Consider this example of Peter who is a respected biochemist. He is invited by the state to help in the manufacture of chemical weapons. He is promised heavy returns once he accepts the job within a given timeline. Otherwise, the job will be given to someone else who is less qualified. Peter dislikes the idea because production of chemical weapons is against his moral principles. He refuses to take the job. Although accepting the job might have benefitted the country, that is, the greatest number of people as projected by consequentialist theorists, refusing remains the most ethical decision in such a situation. Making a decision against his moral standards in an attempt to please people might tamper with his integrity. Furthermore, if Peter does the job against his personal desires, he will become ineffective, and thus interfere with the quality of production of the chemical weapons as Birsch reveals21.
Another issue pertains to human dignity. Using some theories can rank some careers lower than others, irrespective of the commitment of the pursuer. Consequentialist approach considers a philanthropic occupation more important than that of a charity worker. Irrespective of the commitment and selflessness of the charity worker, a self-seeking philanthropist will be viewed as an individual who has a higher moral standard relative to the charity worker. In fact, utilitarian scholars claim that any action that brings the most good in the society is the most ethical. A question might be raised on how this evaluation will be done. Empirically, the level of professional humanitarian will be calculated with respect to the amount of money that a person gives to the society. This situation implies that the higher the amount contributed to the society, the higher a philanthropist’s moral status. This mode of quantifying moral duties is unjust, in this case, to a selfless charity worker. Thus, the consequentialist approach reduces the dignity and morality of the pursuant, a situation that must be discouraged as Ciulla advises22.
According to Chan, Fung, and Yau, the natural law theory is also not immune to weaknesses with respect to its application23. The approach seems to have several assumptions. However, no definite description of moral good has been established, although certain universal ethical principles are evident. Hence, the intentions of an individual should be in line with the accepted universal ethical codes. People are naturally dissimilar. However, the moral good is constant in every person. Hence, whenever people seek to make a career choice, their decision should oppose the most convincing negative moral attributes, irrespective of the occupation. However, as Birsch asserts, the choice must support the most convincing and constructive ethical behavior24.
Career choice is among the key decisions that an individual makes in his or her lifetime. Such decisions affect the rest of one’s life. They have the power to influence people’s mannerism. Making an ethical career choice is important because it enables one to choose a career that not only benefits the society but also the individual. Several theories that are mainly divided into consequentialist and deontologist approaches help in explaining the career choice that can result in the highest moral status. Consequentialists justify the applied means if the end is positive. Furthermore, the theory encourages people to engage in careers that bring the greatest benefit to highest number of people. Conversely, deontologists hold that a moral means must be used in doing a particular task. The fact that the outcome is positive does not justify the means. Having examined the various ethical theories, this paper has preferred the natural law theory as the best approach for choosing a career. Under this concept, one should do the right thing because he or she is convinced that the act is the correct thing to do for him or her to appreciate the results later. Essentially, when choosing a career, one should ignore his or her convincing poor moral motives and focus on the most persuasive positive moral character.
Birsch, Douglas. Introduction to Ethical Theories: A Procedural Approach. Illinois, IL: Waveland Press, 2013.
Chan, Kam, Hung-Gay Fung, and Jot Yau. “Business Ethics Research: A Global Perspective.” Journal of Business Ethics 95, no. 1(2010): 39-53.
Ciulla, Joanne. “Is Business Ethics Getting Better? A Historical Perspective.” Business Ethics Quarterly 21, no. 2(2011): 335-343.
Shafer-Landau, Russ. Ethical Theory: An Anthology. Massachusetts, MA: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
Ugwuoke, Chigbo. Time to Decide: A Career Choice Manual. New York, NY: Xlibris Corporation, 2011.
1 Kam Chan, Hung-Gay Fung, and Jot Yau, “Business Ethics Research: A Global Perspective,” Journal of Business Ethics 95, no. 1(2010): 39.
2 Russ Shafer-Landau, Ethical Theory: An Anthology (Massachusetts, MA: John Wiley & Sons, 2012), 19.
3 Chigbo Ugwuoke, Time to Decide: A Career Choice Manual (New York, NY: Xlibris Corporation, 2011) 56.
4 Shafer-Landau, 38
5 Joanne Ciulla, “Is Business Ethics Getting Better? A Historical Perspective,” Business Ethics Quarterly 21, no. 2(2011): 336.
6 Douglas Birsch, Introduction to Ethical Theories: A Procedural Approach (Illinois, IL: Waveland Press, 2013), 14.
7 Birsch, 17
8 Birsch, 23
9 Shafer-Landau, 46
10 Ciulla, 339
11 Birsch, 34
12 Ciulla, 339
13 Shafer-Landau, 87
14 Birsch, 41
15 Ciulla, 343
16 Chan, Hung-Gay Fung, and Jot Yau, 41
17 Ciulla, 343
18 Ugwuoke, 63
19 Ibid, 67
20 Chan, Hung-Gay Fung, and Jot Yau, 43
21 Birsch, 42
22 Ciulla, 343
23 Chan, Hung-Gay Fung, and Jot Yau, 45
24 Birsch, 46