Ethical Frameworks for Innovation

Article 1 - 2 May 2013Several ethical frameworks have been suggested to guide the development and implementation of an innovation and to ensure that it will not be harmful. Two of these frameworks, utilitarianism and human rights are outlined below.  As each framework contains major strengths and serious flaws, it is important to consider both and avoid narrowly committing to one over the other.

Utilitarianism: The greatest good for the greatest number

Strengths as an Ethical Guide

  • Encourages efficiency and productivity.
  • Parallels profit maximization.
  • Encourages looking beyond the individual to assess impact of decisions on all constituencies.

Weaknesses as an Ethical Guide

  • Virtually impossible to quantify all important variables.
  • Can result in unjust allocation of resources, particularly when some individuals or groups lack representation of “voice”.
  • Can result in abridging some people’s rights to achieve the utilitarian outcome.

Rights: An Individual’s rights should not be violated

Strengths as an Ethical Guide

  • Protects the individual from injury and establishes spheres of freedom.
  • Establishes standards of social behavior that are independent of outcomes.

Weaknesses as an Ethical Guide

  • Can encourage individualistic, selfish behavior that interferes with order and cooperation.
  • Establishes personal prerogatives that may present obstacles to productivity and efficiency.
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