Public Administration Ethical Dilemma and Theories Report (Assessment)

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer


Ethics are defined as moral principles that guide people on how to conduct themselves in an activity or given situation (Nguyen & Tran, 2018). Admittedly, in today’s competitive business environment, many people find it challenging to uphold the ethics that govern their business (Leedy & Ormrod, 2013). Similarly, in the public sector, it is not uncommon for people to go after their interests and forget that they are supposed to work for the interests of the public (Molina, 2015). This challenge of failure to uphold ethics is evident in public administration where actions of the involved are open to scrutiny (Molina, 2015). Indeed, a clear indicator of failure on the part of the administration in carrying out their duty is a refusal to address public concerns. This paper will focus on the ethical dilemmas that a public administrator faces while trying to conduct his duties. The emphasis will be on the use of four theory bases for a moral dilemma. A public administrator may face an ethical dilemma in his or her work when an action or decision requires them to choose one value over another (Menzel, 2015). In many similar situations, the decision made will be deemed unethical regardless of the underlying ethical value.

Utilitarian Ethical Theory

The utilitarian ethical theory is based purely on the consequences of taking a particular course of action (Culver, 2014). Thus, the focus here will be on making a decision that has the most significant benefit to the greatest number of people (Lewin, 2014). The utilitarian theory is further divided into two, namely, act and rule utilitarian theories. In the act utilitarian theory, the decision to punish or forgive is based on its impact on the majority. It is important to note that it does not matter whether the needs of the majority are legal or not in this type of utilitarian theory. On the other hand, the rule utilitarian theory takes into consideration common benefit but under the constraints of the law. Thus, for Mr. Smith, the rule utilitarian theory will be applicable in dealing with cases involving public administration. This is so due to the fact that Mr. Smith’s job as a civil servant is strictly guided by the law. The limitation of the ethical dilemma that this decision will have is that it will infringe on the rights of few people who may not agree with the needs of the majority and may need to have their issues addressed separately (Burgess-Jackson, 2013).

In the scenario given, Mr. Smith has to deal with the unethical behaviors of newly elected supervisors who had been wrongly hired in the first place (Wheeland, 2013). Through the utilitarian ethical theory, Mr. Smith should take the responsibility of ensuring that the needs of the majority are upheld since the welfare of the community, and the organization is of importance. Therefore, action should be taken against the unethical supervisors who infringed on the rights of the majority. Mr. Smith will also measure the consequences of this decision and how it will affect the lives of the majority.

Justice Ethical Theory

Under the ethical justice theory, the decision-maker is bound to make choices that are fair, based only on the opinion of directly involved people. What is fair may be founded on what is considered normal in a given setting (Carré, 2015). This fair decision is also free from any influence of God or religious affiliations and is strictly based on natural law. Justice may also translate into entitlement and equality. In the case of the public administrator, Mr. Smith, justice means punishing ill-mannered employees for the benefit and comfort of those who suffered from them. One can argue that there are different ways the involved can be punished for their crime. For instance, Mr. Smith can terminate all contracts of staff who were hired without the involvement of all relevant department heads. The severity of the punishment chosen by the civil servant should correlate with the severity of the crime committed. Indeed, Mr. Smith should also make it clear that supervisors should include all their peers in the hiring process for the benefit of the whole organization. Mr. Smith should also approve all engineering contracts (Jordan, 2014). It is important to note that the use of this theory will, however, conflict with the utilitarian theory where the needs of the majority might be forfeited in favor of the entitlement of few (supervisor) (Mandle, 2013).

Rights Ethical Theory

In the rights ethical theory, the community’s set of privileges is supposed to be upheld and protected at all costs. Anything that is considered to be right has to be adopted by the majority as the morally upright way of conduct (Sadler, 2013). What is right is also defined as not necessarily good, but what maximizes the effects of the good (Steigleder, 2016). Under normal circumstances, rights are bestowed upon the people by the law of the area where they live. Individually, people gain rights to certain things based on the power they have over resources. In the case of Mr. Smith, he is obligated by law to protect the public’s interest as he is the custodian of public resources. In this light, the solicitor who has a firm that is defending the wrongdoer should be investigated for not upholding what is right for the community. The fact that the wrongdoer was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol shows the concern of the administration about people’s lives. Drunk driving can result in the destruction of property and loss of life, including that of the driver. Mr. Smith should, therefore, take the appropriate action against the culprits. The public administrator should then make sure that what is right is upheld in any case, which is the proper sentencing of the wrongdoer.

Virtue-Based Ethical Theory

This ethical theory is character-based, where one is judged based on how he or she conducts themselves. Therefore, judgment is done based on the normal behavior of the person in question. It is expected that virtue will, thus, produce desirable results that are conforming to the law and the rules of conduct (Curren, 2016). Virtues can also be viewed as interactions people have with one another based on their traits (Frykholm, 2015). Morality is, therefore, an important indicator of how an individual makes decisions in life, and also with whom they associate themselves (Annas, 2015).

A virtuous person is expected to make good choices based on their knowledge of the situation and other moral obligations (Lei, 2016). Thus, Mr. Smith can judge other employees’ actions based on his previous interactions with the staff. If a person is often described as virtuous, then any of their actions which deviate from the morally accepted ones will be seen as irregular, but not disastrous. In the case of Mr. Smith, the solicitor is well known to defend people who were on the wrong side of the law (Wheeland, 2013). In applying the virtue-based ethical theory, Mr. Smith will have the moral obligation to let people know of the solicitor’s behavior and to have him removed from office. This is also applicable to the board that wanted to vote for the passing of the parking tax. Mr. Smith should have each member of the board assessed separately to find out whether they had been involved in any illegal activities and take action against the culpable ones.


In conclusion, Mr. Smith has a hard decision to make in ensuring that the public’s interests are upheld. However, the ethical dilemma that the administrator is confronted with can be tackled using four theories. These four theories are utilitarian, justice, rights, and virtue-based ethical theories. Where the general public’s interest conflicts with what supervisors, board, and solicitor do, utilitarian and rights-based ethical theories can be applied. In cases where the individuals involved will need to be arrested, justice and virtue-based ethical theories will need to be taken into consideration. Using these theories will help in making the right decisions, even when there’s a moral dilemma of one theory conflicting with the interests of another. It is also essential for Mr. Smith to find support from the rest of the administration should he have failed to influence his fellow managers in making the right decisions when faced with ethical dilemmas.


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