In a situation when an ethical dilemma should be solved, in my opinion, the most applicable ethical theory is the subjective consequentialism. Subjective consequentialism tells a person to do what intuitively seems to have the best outcomes (Andric, 2015, p. 547). In order to make an ethical decision, it is important to discuss the variety of outcomes that different decisions might lead to. In case with the shoplifter, at least three decisions can be made.
One solution to the dilemma is to ignore what I have seen and thus let the woman not be punished for her action. The most likely outcome in this case is that the woman will continue shoplifting and will be caught one day by somebody else. This solution will therefore not lead to any positive consequences. Another solution would be to report her to police. This is likely to lead to the woman’s arrest, and her young child will therefore be left without a parent. Apart from this, woman’s arrest will not improve her financial situation, and she will continue her criminal activity. Finally, I can stop her and explain her that I might not report her to police, but one day someone will do it if she continues. In this case I will not follow my duty, but there is a chance that the woman will not steal again. The third option is thus the most desirable of from the point of view of the potential outcomes.
It is important to note that one can never be absolutely sure about the consequences that a decision will lead to. It is only possible to estimate which outcome is the most likely to happen. The woman might continue shoplifting even in case I talk to her. However, from all of the possible options of behavior, this is the one that is most likely to bring positive consequences.
- Andrić, V. (2013). Objective consequentialism and the licensing dilemma. Philosophical Studies, 162(3), 547-566.