Tom and Monica have been dating for one year. During their first three months they continued to go on occasional dates with other people. This made both of them a bit jealous. When they finally talked about it, they agreed to date each other exclusively. After four months of steady dating a routine set in. They do not live together but spend a great deal of time at each other’s apartments. A coworker of Monica’s, Fred, begins to flirt with her at work. At first Monica is a little annoyed but flattered. Fred continues flirting with her and suggests that they have a couple of drinks after work one night. That particular day, Monica was irritated with Tom because when they are together, Tom spent more time playing World of Warcraft than he does paying attention to her. The idea of conversation and a couple of drinks with friendly Fred sounds nice, so she agrees to join him. Fred is very charming, and both are drinking heavily. Monica awakens with a pounding headache next to snoring Fred. She checks the time on her phone and notices she has missed seven texts and three very concerned voicemails from Tom.
Monica is in a morally dubious place, should she tell Tom or keep it a secret. Her panicked mind is reeling with lies to tell Tom. She fears his judgment, his dumping her, and is pained by her own guilt, she has never cheated before. Her conundrum may be helped by considering different ethical theories.
Utilitarianism in this situation is the happiness for the greatest number of people. As far as Monica knows, Tom would feel happy not knowing Monica cheated on him, this supports secrecy. However, Monica feels guilty and her happiness is threatened. Also, Monica wants to keep working with Fred without this indiscretion hanging around at work. However, the consequentialist utilitarian suggests that Monica must face up to her cheating for the sake of truth and honesty in her relationship with Tom. She considers truth as a duty and although she would hope that Tom hasn’t cheated on her, she would like to know that if he did, he would feel a duty to tell her.
Since Tom and Monica had an agreement to date exclusively, they both have a deontological duty to that agreement. Kant would suggest that the truth is more important than the consequences of the truth because truth is a higher moral value than individual happiness considering his categorical imperative. Kant gives very little room in the categorical imperative for any reason not to tell the truth. The reason is that if Monica wants to have a truthful relationship with Tom, she needs to be truthful. If Monica were to take the Kantian advice, then she must tell the truth for the maxim of trust in her relationship with Tom.
So far utility and deontological duty are prodding Monica to tell Tom the truth about her cheating. However, her struggle is now based ontologically regarding her relationship with the virtues. Aristotle promulgated two sets of virtue ethics, intellectual virtues and ethical virtues. Wisdom is practical knowledge that is learned. Intellectually Monica knows what she did was wrong intellectually because she violated a contract with Tom. Whether Monica has the courage to be totally honest is a matter for her ethical virtues. Aristotle’s distinction is that intellectual virtue are learned and taught, ethical virtue is earned over time from experience making moral choices. Monica is going to learn something from whatever the outcome is from this moral choice. She needs to decide how much she cares about her relationship with Tom and consider emphatically how Tom might feel if she kept the secret of told the truth.
In care ethics, moral concern is extended to others by the practice of caring for others. Monica cares for Tom and Fred and her compassion would extend to how she considers her own happiness in concert with their happiness. This method requires the assumption that the ultimate maxim is to enjoy happiness and avoid pain, again utilitarianism. Although the intermediate pain felt by Tom and Fred is the opposite of happiness, the pain will pass, and all will be morally enhanced having experienced truth which is a virtue. Monica can facilitate all this moral growth for each party involved.
Monica is in a state of existential crisis torturing herself by the incongruity of her thoughts and her actions. In her actions she cheated on her boyfriend, she’s considering lying to him. She also could hurt Fred’s feelings and there will be tension at work because of this incident. Monica doesn’t want to feel this way and doesn’t want to have this sort of guilty character. Since Monica wants to be good and act good, she needs to do the right thing for herself and for those involved. Although there will be intermediate pain for Tom when Monica discloses that she cheated on him, their relationship will be strengthened by it regardless of the result. If they break up, then their relationship couldn’t weather brutal honesty. If they stay together, then they have learned to trust that they will be truthful with each other, and the next time something comes up, as it will, they can be honest with each other.
For Monica’s situation, the ethics and moral theory provide a useful reflection on her acts as they affect her value system. In sorting this situation out, Monica realized that she valued truth over the lying. She made a mistake and it is better to come clean for her own moral sanity. Additionally, although her intention is not to inflict pain on Tom, she is really helping him and them grow by being honest in the utilitarian sense. Monica realizes that to grow in her own character, she needs to act in accord with what she feels is good character. Monica’s decision to be honest is a balancing of competing moral values and the maximum benefit for all involved is to be honest with hope that others are willing to respect that. If they aren’t that is more reflective of their moral character than it is of hers.