Ethical theories are widely applied in the criminal justice system where they serve various purposes. According to Spurgeon, Dennis and Chipman (1999), an ethical theory serves two purposes. First is to provide a rational justification of the fundamental moral principles or rules usually manifested in moral judgement. Secondly, is to help “resolve any conflict that might occur between two or more equally binding moral rules and principles” (p. 31). In this essay, we are more interested in ethical egoism, its critique, and application in the criminal justice system.
Ethical egoism supports the normative ethical perspective that moral agents should perform actions that fulfil their individual interests. In this respect, ethical egoism varies from psychological egoism because the latter hinges on the ethical position that the only way an individual can act is based on his/her individual interests. In addition, because rational egoism assumes that an individual acting in his/her self-interest is the rational thing to do, it thus also differs from ethical egoism. Nonetheless, it is important to note that ethical egoism does not support actions of moral agents who might be inclined to harm the well-being and interests of others when engaged in moral discussions.
There are four key criticisms of ethical egoism worth of consideration. One of these criticisms argues that owing to the unconvincing nature of ethical egoism, its serious proponents only root for it do so to the detriment of redefining their ‘self-interest’ in an attempt to accommodate the interests of others (Burgess-Jackson, 2013). Hinman (2010) has also criticised ethical egoism on grounds that it indulges in greed, not to mention that it does not show concern for spirituality, as manifested by a person’s submersion in greed. Thirdly, ethical egoism has been criticised for its inability to provide sufficient resolution to human conflicts. As a matter of fact, ethical egoism has been accused of spawning conflicts of interest, as opposed to resolving them. Parfit (1984) has also pointed ethical egoisms and criticised it for what he calls inherently untenable state.
Ethical Egoism and the Criminal Justice System
The criminal justice system is largely regulated by ethics in such activities as defining criminal activity, in the development and application of moral reasoning, as well as interpreting what the society regards as acceptable punishment (Spurgeon Hall, Dennis & Chipman, 2000). Having established that ethical egoism entails the actions of individuals who are out to fulfil their self-interests, it is also important to note that ethical egoism could as well enable us to fee a certain level of satisfaction. The notion of egoism argues that one helps others in order that he/she may also be helped. In addition, egoism supports the idea that what brings personal happiness and survival might as well be regarded as being moral (Banks, 2012).
Some of the police officers in the criminal justice system demonstrate unethical and conceit behaviours. Under no circumstances should police officers operate on the pretext that they can undertake anything for their own benefit. In policing, a number of probable ethical challenges are encountered, including corruption, violation of privacy and rights, use of excessive force, negligence, entrapment, violation of procedure and policies in law enforcement, and uncivil conduct discrimination, among others. Such ethical challenges end up creating a bad picture of the criminal justice system. Moreover, ethical egoism in the criminal justice system often happens at a time when a number of policing activities turn into somewhat dishonest actions or practices.
Through ethical egoism, we are bound to raise many opinions and questions as regards what is good and what is bad. At the same time, a number of ethical dilemmas are bound to emerge when law enforcement officers are not sure of the right action to take because doing the right thing could come at a cost. Nonetheless, establishing a code of conduct and ethics helps to control the behaviour of such law enforcement officers.
In spite of the enforcement of such policies and laws, law enforcement officers could still hold broad discretion in as far as making choices is concerned, when carrying out their duties. By and large, there are responsibilities that are tied to exercising of one’ discretion as a police officer and as such, police officers are thus answerable for their actions while on duty (Cohen & Feldberg, 1991).
Nevertheless, the desired image of the criminal justice system is usually tainted by corrupt police officers and agents. Through their past actions, we are likely to get a glimpse of unethical activity patterns as well as the use of ethical egoism. The emergence of ethical egoism within the criminal justice system could as well be attributed to corruption among supervisors in the force, individual police officers’ self-interest, their self-preservation and right of entitlement, as well as alleging loyalty to corrupt police officers by way of upholding secrecy and silence. A good example would be when a law enforcement officer is expected to remain alert and vigilant while on duty but ends up sleeping on the job (Souryal, 2006).
In the case of attorneys, they are expected to give the best representation of their client, as opposed to merely thinking about winning a case. The same case applies to self-participation in the criminal justice system in the form of self-reporting crime at the local level and taking part in the jury.
Ethics play a key role in the criminal justice system where it is used to resolve ethical conflicts. The use of egoism is especially worth of exploration such as in the use of force by law enforcement officers, or immunity of the state and law enforcing agencies. Therefore, the actions of law enforcement officers can be defined using egoism. Police officers try to justify their actions in the maintenance of law and order using the egoism principle. False arrest is not permissible, according to egoism but when a law enforcement officer makes an arrest, it is usually on the basis of a probable cause. It is not expected that the state and law enforcing agencies will be tainted by such actions. Nevertheless, we can still apply ethical egoism as a motivating force in the criminal justice system. Since an individual would regard going jail as a bad action, they would thus be more motivated to pursue self-interest and would thus not engage in activities that are likely to lead them to jail, such as stealing. On the other hand, should the individual consider being incarcerated as the lesser evil, this could lead to conflict of interests.
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