Hey guys, what is up, in this article we are going to discuss Nico’s algorithm: a method I developed to determine right from wrong in any given situation. That is right, it doesn’t matter what difficult decision you need to make, just consult this method and you will know what to do. But, to fully understand how it works you need to know what the following theories are: Aristotelean virtue ethics, utilitarianism and Kantian ethics. I explained in previous articles what these are about, so if you don’t really know what these theories are, please briefly go over the summaries by following the hyperlinks. Alright, hope you are all set now, let us jump into the method. You can check out the video, or the summary, or both! Both would be nice to really fully understand all the important concepts.
Is it okay to steal some bread to feed your starving family? Is it okay to lie to prevent a crime from happening? You have probably faced some moral dilemmas of your own in your life, everyone has such difficulties in life. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a readymade method to find the answer, every time you face such a difficulty? For this, we now have Nico’s algorithm.
First off, what is an algorithm exactly? It has been defined as “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations”, and that is exactly what I am talking about when I use this word. There is a problem, namely is a certain action ethical or not? Then we follow some steps in a process to find the answer. I am going to explain the process now.
Nico’s algorithm is the following, it is very simple. If you are confused whether something you want to do is right or wrong, just consult the three main theories of ethics: virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and Kantian ethics. Step by step, determine which one is in favor of the action, and which one is not. Then, simply count the numbers, and the majority wins! Pretty easy right. Let’s do an example so that you can see completely how it works.
Two Examples of Nico’s Algorithm at Work
A co worker asks you if you want to call in sick to work tomorrow afternoon to go to an amusement park together.
Universal rule: I can lie by calling in sick to work if I want to go have fun. In the end, everyone does this, deadlines aren’t met, companies go bankrupt, economy collapses, the world falls apart and we end up with contradiction (according to Kant’s terminology). Thus, Kant says NO.
Utilitarianism: It will make you and your coworker happy, and there is a big chance no one will even notice. So YES.
Virtue ethics: a virtuous person finds the right balance between work and play. During work hours at day, one should work, and outside of work hours (so in the evening, weekends or days off), one should relax. So this is a NO.
We have 2 to 1 in favor of declining this request and just going to work the next day. So the right thing to do is to say to your coworker: sorry pal, but I ain’t riding the ditching train with you today! And saying it in exactly those words would probably be best too.
Let’s do one more example so that you really get it. Is it okay to take a couple of pens from the office with me to home?
Universal rule: I will steal office supplies, if I don’t have any and need some for work at home. In the end, people would be stealing a bunch of stuff and businesses would go bankrupt. Contradiction
Utilitarianism: this will make you slightly more happy and no one further would really notice, so go for it.
Virtue ethics: well, maybe you can just ask your boss if you can take a couple of pens home, he probably wouldn’t care at all. Otherwise yeah, don’t be too lazy and just do your shopping on time, so you don’t run out of pens!
So 2 to 1 again, don’t be lazy, get your own stuff whenever you need it. But if you really like a pen, and your boss doesn’t mind, then it is a different story.
So, now you know Nico’s algorithm. Every time you face a moral dilemma, you can use this method to determine what to do. If you have to make a quick decision, you can just make one based on intuition, and later analyze if what you did was right. Note, that ethics is still a very uncertain science, with many viewpoints. And criticisms for basically all theories. But this algorithm is in my eyes a really good way to efficiently analyze all the relevant information in any situation, and then to make an optimal and informed decision.