PH425      Half Unit
Business and Organisational Ethics

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Susanne Burri


This course is available on the CEMS Exchange, IMEX Exchange, MPA in European Public and Economic Policy, MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in Management, MSc in Management (CEMS MIM), MSc in Management (MiM Exchange), MSc in Management of Information Systems and Digital Innovation, MSc in Management, Organisations and Governance, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Science, MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, MSc in Public Management and Governance, MSc in Risk and Finance and MiM Exchange. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

It is sometimes argued that "business ethics" is a contradiction in terms --- that business is about making money, and that those who think that it is also about being nice to each other are naive do-gooders. What people who argue in this way don't usually realise is that they are in fact doing business ethics while they are in the process of denying that it exists. To assert that business is about making money is to claim that when it comes to business, everyone should, or is at least permitted to, pay attention only to their personal gain. This statement may be correct, or it may be false. But it is definitely an ethical statement, simply because it makes claims about how people should and shouldn't behave.

In this introductory course to business ethics, we look at different types of ethical theories, and we apply them to problems that tend to arise in business contexts. The primary aim of the course is not to present you with solutions or dogmatic guidance, but to teach you to think critically, so that towards the end of the course, you will no longer be satisfied with simple answers to difficult problems. Participating in this course will help you sharpen your analytical skills. You will also become more experienced at expressing your thoughts clearly and concisely, both in writing and in discussion.

Topics discussed in the context of this course include:

  • What are the moral responsibilities of managers? Is Milton Friedman correct that the main purpose of business is to increase profits?
  • What, if anything, is wrong with exploitation? If sweatshop workers voluntarily choose to work under bad conditions because it is their best shot at having a decent life, isn't it wrong to outlaw sweatshop labour and rob the workers of this opportunity?
  • If you want to live a morally good life, what career should you pursue? Is William MacAskill right that you should consider working for a hedge fund, and then give a large part of your earnings away to charities?
  • Do employers have a duty to promote employee happiness? According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, happiness is the ultimate goal of all human beings. But is everyone responsible for their own happiness, or are employers required to make their employees happy as well?
  • To what extent are the large pay packages that CEOs receive justified? What makes a wage fair?

Required readings amount to about two to three papers per week.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT.

Formative coursework

One essay of 2000 words. Students will also be given the opportunity to write a mock exam to which they will receive feedback.

Indicative reading

Carr, Albert Z. (1968): "Is Business Bluffing Ethical?", in Harvard Business Review, 46 (1): 143-153.

Friedman, Milton (1970): "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits", New York Times Magazine, Sept. 13.

Heath, Joseph (2014): "A Market Failure Approach to Business Ethics", in Morality, Competition, and the Firm: The Market Failures Approach to Business Ethics, pp. 25-41. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moriarty, Jeffrey (2009): "How Much Compensation Can CEOs Permissibly Accept?", in Business Ethics Quarterly, 19 (2): 235-250.

Zwolinski, Matt (2007): "Sweatshops, Choice, and Exploitation", Business Ethics Quarterly 17 (4): 689-727.


Exam (67%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (33%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Student performance results

(2012/13 - 2014/15 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 19
Merit 66.7
Pass 14.3
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2015/16: 14

Average class size 2015/16: 7

Controlled access 2015/16: No

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information