Ford's conduct in the faulty design of the Pinto fuel tank resulted in many deaths.  Which theory, Utilitarian or Kantian was used and why?

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enotechris's profile pic

enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

Everything has a cost, whether intangible or direct, and decisions regarding value must be made.  In this case, it was clear that Ford assigned a higher value to recapturing the small car market from competitors and a lower value to the safety of its car.  By its own estimates (see link) it would have cost the company about $137 million to rectify the defect, and only $50 million in lawsuits from death and injury.  However, the ensuing lawsuits cost them $128 million.  These are just the direct costs of that decision; the intangible cost to Ford must have been many times that in damage to the company's reputation and lost sales.  Furthermore, what price can be assessed to the human suffering caused by the company's decision?   The unconditional requirement, the Kantian Categorical Imperative for the car to be 2000 pounds and $2000 allowed for the design disaster to occur.  If the decision makers had  been thinking of "what is the greatest good for the greatest number" of people, or a utilitarian approach, they may have been more mindful of the intangible costs of such a decision and opted to fix the exploding gas tank problem.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In my opinion, Ford would have had to have been acting out in accordance with Utilitarianism (if they were actually even trying to be moral).

By Kant's reasoning, I can't see anyway to justify what Ford did. If you use the Categorical Imperative, what would their universal law be? "Feel free to endanger people's lives if safety would cost too much?" I don't know how you could will that to be a universal law.

From a utilitarian perspective, you could sort of justify it. You could say that the harm that would come to all the Ford workers, their families, etc if Ford went broke would be worse than the possibility of some people dying. We just bailed out the auto companies because it would be terrible if they went broke, so the same logic could apply here.

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