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Introduction to Ethical Principles and Theories
Ethical principles provide a framework when people are faced with ethical issues and conflicts. The ethical principles and theories provide different viewpoints as people search for appropriate decisions. Each theory gives thrust to different elements, uses different rules and applies different decision making style such as focus on outcomes, appropriateness of one’s actions, the need for virtue, etc. Also, the theories help us to understand how others make ethical decisions and use what principles while making decisions. However, most ethical principles and theories are inclined to achieve four goals i.e. beneficence, justice, autonomy and least harm.
Four theories of EthicsEthical theories are a useful source to help the individuals make appropriate decisions and resolve ethical conflicts / dilemmas. The four commonly used ethical theories are utilitarianism, virtues, contract and deontology (Jiang, & Guibing, 2014).
Utilitarian TheoryUtilitarian ethical theories emphasize the consequences of decision and actions. This theory proposes that the choice that has the potential to yield maximum benefit to the targets of the decision are ethically correct (Jiang, & Guibing, 2014). Two types of utilitarianism are recognized in this principle. One is act and other is rule utilitarianism. In act utilitarianism, a person acts with determination to gain maximum benefit from the ethical action, regardless of personal feelings and preferences. The rule utilitarianism seeks to maximize the benefits and at the same time follow the laws in the context. The goal of justice and beneficence is given prominence in rule utilitarianism.
Virtue Theory Ethical theory based on virtue is concerned about judging a person’s character than judging the consequences of the action (Jiang, & Guibing, 2014). While using virtues approach to analysis of ethics, a person moral standards, reputation and motives are taken into account for judging actions as ethical or non-ethical. One of the major weaknesses of virtue theory is that it is not dynamic, i.e. it does not consider a person’s change with respect to ethical behavior. For example, people tend to consider a person as ‘Once a liar, always a liar’.
Contract approach to ethic s is based on the rights granted to parties involved in a contract. The rights established by mutual agreement is protected and given the highest priority (Jiang, & Guibing, 2014). The rights mentioned in an agreement are considered as right, even if it disregards human feelings and conditions. For example, an office room taken on rent has to be vacated when the owner of the space claims the right to evacuate the tenants. The personal conditions of the tenants have no effect on the right of the space owner. Though contracts help to overcome the emotional issues that may hinder the functioning of an agreement, it can complicate the ethical issues. The societal norms are the ultimate justice provider to the contractual agreements.
This class of ethical theory holds that people involved in ethical issues must adhere to norms, duties and obligations, even if the consequences of such actions may be adverse (Jiang, & Guibing, 2014). One of the positive features of deontology is that this approach always produces consistent decisions because they are based on set norms and rules. But, the rationale for fixing the norms and rules are not often clear in the deontological approach. The dogmas, the traditional beliefs and conventions are the basis of deontological ethical practices.
Analysis of Net Neutrality in the light of Ethical theories
The article titled ‘Open Internet’ discusses about the ethics of practicing net neutrality (NN) and its regulation in the European Union. Net Neutrality (NN) is a principle and practice of considering all users equally, without giving privileges to any one user over the others (Kurbalija, 2016). . All have equal rights in the internet world with respect to speed of data transmission and access to data. The article clearly defines NN and highlights the neutrality prevention activities of Internet Service Providers such as .blocking, throttling, discriminating and prioritizing of data flow.
Ethical regulation of internet can be made a reality only when frameworks that protect the rights of internet users and provide security to them are established, for protection of rights of the internet users NN is critical (Cave, & Vogelsang, 2015)). In the absence of NN law, the service providers may differentiate their services based on the payments they receive for accessing internet. For example, an individual who subscribes the service at a lower slab may be offered lower bandwidth and marginalized data flow. When NN law is in place all users can enjoy the same speed of access to data and information in the net. European Union has instituted a regulation in favor of NN and is positioned to create a digital single market (Cave, & Vogelsang, 2015). This regulation grants the right and freedom to the European users to access and distribute content as per their options.
Apart from discussing the laws of net neutrality, the articles discusses about the ethics of the law. We may apply the theories of ethics to analyses the arguments presented in the articles i.e. the theories that we have described earlier - utilitarianism, virtue, contract and the deontology (Jiang, & Guibing, 2014). The interpretations of the article are completed based on the four theories.
The ethical principles proposed in different theories are positively adhered in the NN legislation. However, there are negative consequences to NN law, as the service providers have to find innovative ways to improve their revenue streams. The service providers may be discouraged to invest in high speed networks, as they do not have incentive to do so (Dewenter, & Rösch, 2016). Also, they may try different methodologies to serve their premium customers at the cost of ordinary internet users. The practice of ethics is a elusive issue, hence the decision makers have to balance between the absolute and relativism (Valletti, Peitz, & Greenstein, 2016).
Cave, M., & Vogelsang, I. (2015). Net neutrality: An EU/US comparison. Competition Policy International (CPI) Journal, 11(1), 1-14.
Dewenter, R., & Rösch, J. (2016). Net neutrality and the incentives (not) to exclude competitors. Review of economics, 67(2), 209-229.
Jiang, Z., & Guibing, P. (2014). From the Golden Mean to the “Veil of Ignorance”: An Analysis of Four Kinds of Theories of Media Ethics. Nanjing Journal of Social Sciences, 12, 017.
Kurbalija, J. (2016). An introduction to internet governance. Diplo Foundation.
Shaw, W. H. (2016). Business ethics: A textbook with cases. Nelson Education.
Valletti, S. G. M. P. T., Peitz, M., & Greenstein, S. (2016). Net Neutrality: A Fast Lane to Understanding the Trade-offs.