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When Evan Vokes, a trained engineer, started working for TransCanada in 2007, he realized that there were some issues in his employer’s work ethics and quickly found himself in a moral struggle. TransCanada is one of the largest companies focusing on oil and gas infrastructure in North America. There are federal regulations on the welding procedures and testing of the pipelines. Vokes found that there were no records about welding procedures and no tests had been documented. After researching, he found that the welds were not in compliance with federal regulations. This not only means that TransCanada was ignoring the law but also ignoring the risk of pipelines breaking and potentially exploding. A possible result of this could have been a lot of physical damage but also endangerment the environment and many lifes. Engineers are trained to not harm the public but rather promote the public wellbeing. This struggle will be discussed in the following paragraphs. Did Vokes choose correctly by becoming a whistle-blower? We will take a look from a Kantian as well as rule utilitarian perspective.
Kant’s moral theory is based on four main parts: Will, duty, maxim and categorical imperative. These four guide through deciding if an act is morally right or not. As main idea his standpoint is that any act is morally right if it was done with good intentions in mind. Duty must be defined in order to conclude the Will from this. Will helps finding the correct decision, duty should be universal while the maxim is a subjective principle that dictates how you should behave, as an example here the engineering law could be the maxim. The categorical imperative is a tool one can use for checking if a personal moral principle or your maxim is right. Will or intentions are good if they can be universalized, puts no one as a means-to-an-end, which means that a person would be used as just a tool, and that the autonomy of every person stays intact. Lastly, the conditions of any situation do not matter to Kant; as long as the previously mentioned four parts are satisfied and autonomy is upheld, means-to-an-end is not applicable, and the duty is universal, any act is morally right.
The Duty in the case of Evan Vokes can be defined as follows: I see a problem, which is the non-compliance in welding procedures and my will is that telling me that it is my duty to prevent this from happening. Therefore, I must go public and report the issues to the proper authorities. Right away, we can say according to Kant this solution is wrong because the universality of the duty is not fulfilled. Supervisors and even the CEO repeatedly gave Mr. Vokes instruction and hints to stop investigating and follow their orders. He confirmed that in an interview that he gave in 2017: “More than once, my manager told me how he was disappointed in my performance because I wasn’t doing as I was told”. They were telling you to ignore your conscience? “They were telling me to ignore the engineering law”. This quote shows that he was directly told that they were dissatisfied with him, but he refers back to the engineering law and that it is his duty to live up to that. Furthermore, the autonomy of colleagues and his supervisors is at risk since the publicized information could possibly result in them losing their jobs.
The main difference between rule utilitarianism and Kant’s moral theory is that the outcome, the consequences, are what legitimates makes the act morally right. Rule utilitarianisms goal is to achieve the maximum amount of happiness while following rules for guidance. It is debatable if Vokes acted correctly according to this theory since his supervisors had told him to ignore the facts and stop investigating on his own but other rules would be to be honest and follow the engineering law. Going over to maximizing happiness: while he prevents employees of TransCanada to be happy, by potentially costing people their jobs and reputations we have to ask the following questions. What is the consequence of his actions? He most likely saved thousands if not hundred-thousands of lives, prevented the environment from getting damaged but at the cost of hurting his company’s reputation, hurting his own reputation and most likely getting some people fired. The question that arises is if there were other ways. Additionally, another quote proves that the public agrees with Vokes going public with his information. This is emphasized by the following quote: ‘The Council of Canadians extends its appreciation to Mr. Vokes and believes that the information he made public at great personal cost must continue to be considered as TransCanada advances its Energy East pipeline and advocates for its Keystone XL pipeline.’
As we now discussed both, Kant’s moral theory as well as rule utilitarianism, and applied them to the case of TransCanada and the whistle-blower Evan Vokes, we can come to a conclusion. Looking at Kant’s moral theory, he did not act correctly since his duty cannot be universalized (CEO and other supervisor did not agree with him) which makes his decision wrong in Kant’s eyes. From the rule utilitarian’s point of view, he did everything right, he chose the path that would result in maximum happiness for himself, by doing what he felt was right, as well as the greater good. There was probably no other way that would resulted in more happiness than the way he chose. Personally, I would say he acted right taking personal damage but standing up for the public wellbeing.
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