PH225      Half Unit
Business and Organisational Ethics

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Susanne Burri


This course is available on the BSc in Management, BSc in Philosophy and Economics, BSc in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is not available as an outside option. This course is available to General Course students.

Course content

Some tough-minded people believe that "business ethics" is a contradiction in terms. They argue that business is like a game where winning means making as much money as possible. These tough-minded people claim that whoever thinks otherwise --- whoever thinks that business is also about treating others respectfully --- is either naive, or deluded, or both. What people who argue in this way don't usually realise is that they are, in fact, making an argument within business ethics while they are denying that "business ethics" exists. To assert that business is a game where winning means making as much money as possible 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 may permissibly 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 papers per week.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

Formative coursework

One essay of 1500 words.

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

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

Classification % of students
First 16.5
2:1 72.8
2:2 9.7
Third 1
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2016/17: 52

Average class size 2016/17: 13

Capped 2016/17: No

Lecture capture used 2016/17: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course survey results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 68%



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