A case to think upon…
Imagine you & your younger brother along with a Nobel Prize-winning Medical scientist are travelling in a car which meets with an accident and consequently, it catches fire. You somehow manage to wriggle out of the car and notice that your brother and the scientist need help to come out of the flaming vehicle. You, yourself were extremely exhausted and had the strength to rescue only one person; it was either your brother or the celebrated medical scientist. Whom will you save in a manner that can be ethically justified?
As the whole situation unravels, your emotion and kinship compulsions make you lean towards relationship priorities. But as a student of ethics, you start weighing your options and start reflecting over whose life is worth saving and more valuable. As you start rationalising, you realise that your brother’s life is precious only to you and your family, and his life does not add any value to society per se. While on the other hand, scientist’s life is more valuable to the community as his medical contribution can save lives in these distressing times of pandemic. In simple words, the choice is between relationship priorities and larger good for the community. Will it be justified to sacrifice your brother in the greater interest of the community & vice-versa. TRICKY!!
Something analogous to the above dilemma came up last week when I saw IndiaBulls, the housing finance Corporation, trending on twitter for wrong reasons. The Corporation was laying off 2000 of its employees claiming the lay-off to be an annual exercise, but the employees differed from the official statement. The controversial aspect was the timing, and there was no financial cushion in the form of a severance package.
One of the laid-off employee tweets, “India Bulls which donated 21crores to PM Cares fund has laid off 2000+ employees with no severance package. These guys had the money to donate to PM Cares but didn’t have money to pay salaries for their employees.” Similarly, another tweeted, “India Bulls contributes 21cr in PM COVID fund and then take one-day salary from the employees as COVID fund, cut out salary 20-40% from the employees and then finally asking to leave the company.”
The employees felt aggrieved because the Corporation chooses to sacrifice/ignore them in the interest of the community that is facing a crisis. The question boils down to, who should the Corporation care for, its employees or the community? As a Corporation, IndiaBulls has a greater moral obligation to care for its employees or the community; what do you all think?
To navigate through the caring conundrum, one needs to understand that “care” is both a human need and a human ability. We need care for growth and flourishing, further being cared for develops a sense of security and facilitates positive attachments in relationships. Kinship relationships are all based on the element of care and relationships find strength in the essential value of care. In the case of choice between your brother and scientist, it is entirely justified to prioritise kin relationship than being concerned about community interest.
Traditionally, the big 3 (Virtue, Utilitarian, Kantian Deontology) dominated the ethics landscape, and they focused either on the agent (person) or the action leaving out an essential aspect of human life, i.e., relationships. In your brother’s case, a strict utilitarian would have stood for the greatest good for the greatest number similar to the action taken by India Bulls. As a corporation, India Bulls action looks ethical by utilitarian logic. Still, on the flip side, it failed in its primary obligation of nurturing the employees who hitherto have been contributing to the Corporation.
Ethical choices of life cannot always be about agent and action because as humans, our life revolves around relationships, and many of our decisions rely on relationship considerations. For instance, I am sure in the case of brother v/s scientist, we all would have surely gone on to save the brother, not the scientist. Life is not utilitarian calculus. It is at this point, ethics of care steps in to offer an ethical perspective that is neither action nor agent-oriented, but a relational approach to moral decision making. Nel Noddings (Caring: A feminine approach to ethics & moral education) argued that caring is fundamental to humanity and is the foundation of morality. Caring is seen as ethically basic to humans.
A question to reflect!
Do you think that IndiaBulls action of displaying concern and care for the community in crisis at the cost of its employees is ethically fair?
I would like to hear your responses.