Ethics and Moral Reasoning

Ethics and Moral Reasoning

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) contended that all moral requirements are founded on a standard of rationality. He named it, “Categorical Imperative” (CI).  To be immoral, thus, means the doing of the opposite or rather, the violation of what he dubbed CI, thus is rendered irrational. Kant argues that any analysis that is based on practical reasoning will only reveal the prerequisite that all rational agents have to be in conformity with the instrumental principles, (Engstrom and Whiting, 1996). He, however, argued that in conforming to the moral requirements still have some level of essentiality to rational agency. He did not, however, at any one point get to believe that all outcomes originated from good intents. Amid moral philosophy of Kant, he thought every human being had a governing will which, he assumed to be autonomous: a law that forms the basic principle of morality. He asserts that all human beings do not always have to follow an already laid down set of rules. They, however, must have a set of self-governing rules that can govern their actions, without which, their actions can be rendered useless, (Timmons 2002).

The Enron, a company involved with the generation of electricity, gives an unusual offer to the Merrill Lynch Investment Bankers Company. Merrill Lynch is not in the electrical generation business, even though, the investment bank was not required by the deal to be, in itself, directly involved in the operation of the barges. This, in the first place, would leave the investment company considered as operating ultra-vires: undertaking something not in its registered field of operation. The two companies have two different perspectives, Merrill Lynch was to make a profit of 15% calculated annually, whereas, the Enron company needed to maintain the high flying stock price of the company. Mr. Bayly, together with the other employees of the Merrill Investment, in spite of the fact that Enron declines his need for a written document, are still so lured into the signing of the deal. This is based on the fact that, they put into consideration the moral and legal frameworks.

Well, this scenario, very well applies to the theory of moral of Kantian. Kant states that not any person should act, unless they are sure that the will of that action can be universal: apply to all. But he states that categorical imperatives are not based on any known experience. According to, (Paton, 1947) The Merrill Investment operates against the laid down rules and expectations: for one they are seen to be operating ultra-vires when accepting to buy an electrical generating barges. Secondly, the deal is to be sealed without any put down writing, this is against the company’s laws. They act under the basis of categorical imperative: the expected outcome is so uncertain, and thus, by logic, it precedes the experience of the past actions. It is very inconsistent an action such that it cannot be made into a universal law. The goodwill of Mr. Bayly and the others and the duty to the company compels them to take the un-normative action, under the reasoning that not too much is involved, after all, the deal is worth the risk.

From a the perspective of legality evaluation of this case, the action of the employees is considered as very inconsistent with the laid down rules and laws governing the commercial sector. However, from the economic perspective from the company’s point of view, the undertaking was considered acceptable and well-reasoned; a consideration under the need for risk taking when it comes to business.

Based on the ethical theories surrounding the above case, the actions taken can be supported by use of the virtue theory. This theory is focussed on helping people realise the need for good characters such traits, for instance, generosity, concernedness and kindness, at the expense of placing emphasis on rules, (Timmons 2002),  On this context, the group can be argued to have acted in kindness in favour of the Enron Company. If they had not accepted the deal, the company would have suffered from a fall in its stock price. They thus broke the rules to help the ailing Enron Company. A point that must be noted, however, is that, when arguing this out, the gain they had in mind that actually lured them into the deal, should be ignored. In applying it, therefore, the motivation of the employees that extrinsically led them to getting into the deal must be ignored but argued as motivation of only to assist an ailing friend, which is a show of kindness. This, also, closely links to utilitarian theory, which asserts that no moral act or law, can be said to be intrinsically wrong or right, but the complete normal good is the key determinant. The action of the group is thus, considered righteous since, in the end, everything goes well, the Merrill Investors get the 7000 million dollars plus the promised 15%, the barges is bought as promised.

Considering moral theory would not have helped Mr. Bayly in the view of the eminent dangers as it actually advocates for going against the norms as long as it is for the eventual good. A moral theory can be of very great assistance in making a ruling in this case, since the eventual outcome is a ‘good’. It can be related to a story of two drunk friends each taking a drive home. One gets home safely, whereas the other runs a pedestrian over in the reckless driving. Both the scenarios are wrong; the outcome, however, creates a difference.


Engstrom S. and Whiting J. (1996), “Making Room for Character,” in Aristotle, Kant, and the Stoics: Rethinking Happiness and Duty. NY: Cambridge University Press; 36-60.

Paton, H. (1947), The Categorical Imperative: A Study in Kant’s Moral Philosophy. London: Hutchinson’s University Library

Timmons, M. (2002), Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals: Interpretative Essays. New York: Oxford U. P.