A FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE


Let's go back to the story now and see if there are any alternatives to the way things went. One might be tempted to say that this is a clearcut case, that Stockmann had right on his side, and that any discussion is just a waste of time. And in fact that is a conclusion which we may reach in the end, but for the time lets step back and look at the matter in an open-minded way (perhaps keeping in mind Stockmann's claim that "...broad-mindedness is almost precisely the same thing as morality.") Lets go through each of the 13 steps in An Approach to Ethical Decision-Making.


1. Is there a conflict (personal, interpersonal, or institutional) or a question that arises either at the level of thought or of feeling?

There is indeed a conflict here. At least two questions come to mind. What should Stockmann do when he first suspects or learns that a problem exists with the water? What should the community do when it learns of the problem?


2. Is the question a moral or ethical question? Why?

The first question above asks how Stockmann ought to act. It may be a moral question. We might ask for example whether Stockmann has any obligation to involve the officers of the baths at an earlier state of his investigations. That's not clear. We may want to let this issue sit for a bit.

The second question seems clearly to involve a moral issue. What ought the community to do in the light of the threat to the health of the users of the baths?


3. What are the pertinent facts of the case?

We know that some people who have used the baths have become sick, though we don't know how many, nor how sick they have become. We know that tests indicate that the waters of the baths are contaminated, though we do not know how badly, nor do we know much about the nature of the contamination, whether it is of a type that is treatable, filterable, etc.

Whose interests are at stake? First, I hope, are the interests of the visitors who use the baths. But the community and its individuals also have strong interests since the baths are a major part of the local economy. And of course the officers of the baths have special interests presumably due to the extent of their financial holdings in the baths. Stockmann has a special interest in the matter because of his medical obligations and his conscience. We might also say that his family has particular interests in the matter, although their interests are really more in how Stockmann acts than in the community's decision about how to respond to the problem.


4. What alternative actions are available?

We can't answer this one with confidence without more study of the matter, but we can at least speculate. Here are some possible actions relevant to the contamination.

  1. Close the baths.
  2. Deny the problem, continue as before.
  3. Redo the water supply, at considerable expense.
  4. Treat or filter the water.
  5. Use the baths facility for some other purpose.

5. Which alternative would help one develop and maintain a virtuous state of character?

Well, I think that would be actions a, c, d, and e above.


6. Which alternative would be a good general rule for people to follow in similar situations?

Solve the problem, one way or another, taking into consideration the costs of each approach.


7. Which alternative would lead to the best overall consequences?

How about c or d?


8. Which alternative best protects the moral rights of individuals?

Anything except b.


9. Which alternative best promotes the common good?

I think that would have to be c, d, or e. Any solution which protects the users of the baths and yet allows them to remain economically viable for the community seems to promote the common good.


10. Considering these various points of view, which of your alternative actions would be the best?

We must admit that we are short of data. We don't know the cost of reconstruction. We don't know if the contaminated water can be successfully treated or filtered, and we don't know the cost if it is possible. We don't know if there are alternative uses for the baths, nor do we know their value to the community. If it is possible, this would be a good time to proceed with more study and research.

If there is no time, then we should close the baths and proceed with reconstruction.


11. What would persons of good judgment think of the justification of your decision?

I think there is a point which hasn't been raised yet, which would be in the minds of persons of good judgment. This is that the contamination of the baths almost certainly can't be hidden. It is out in the open, and tourists are probably going to hear of it. When more cases of sickness arise, and rumors circulate about the waters, things will come to a head. If the community wants the economic value of the baths for years to come it will have to face the problem.. Denying the problem can have only a very short term benefit.


12. In retrospect was the action - and its results for others as well as your own moral character - the best action?

Yes, I think so. My conscience is clear, and I think that the community will feel better about this solution, once they get used to it, and be better off economically in the long run. Fixing the water supply may give us the opportunity to review the entire baths facility, perhaps update and improve it. We will have to sacrifice short term value for long term gain. This is a very common trade-off in ethical problems.


13. What do persons of good judgment think of the action and its results in retrospect?

Well, we had another town meeting. People have cooled off, and have also come to understand that they couldn't in good conscience do anything else. Also, they realize that the problem couldn't be effectively hidden anyway. Dr. Stockmann has been away now for a couple of months, and a number of members of the compact majority have begun to say that he wasn't such a bad fellow after all. And, of course, the local economy has gotten a shot in the arm from the construction work going on at the baths. After observing this Peter Stockmann has quietly let it be known that in fact he had for a long time.....but that's another story, so we shall break here, and leave the town to its own devices.


Persons wishing to comment may contact: thealy@scuacc.scu.edu