PH425      Half Unit
Business and Organisational Ethics

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Susanne Burri


This course is available on the CEMS Exchange, MBA Exchange, MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Columbia), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Hertie), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and NUS), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Sciences Po), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Tokyo), MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MPA in Social Impact, MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in Management of Information Systems and Digital Innovation, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Science, MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, MSc in Risk and Finance and Master of Public Administration. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

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 to three papers per week.


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

Formative coursework

One essay of 2000 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 summer exam period.
Essay (33%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Student performance results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 27.3
Merit 63.6
Pass 9.1
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2017/18: 22

Average class size 2017/18: 15

Controlled access 2017/18: No

Lecture capture used 2017/18: Yes (LT)

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: 63%



Reading list (Q2.1)


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