PH425      Half Unit
Business and Organisational Ethics

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Mr Thomas Ferretti


This course is available on the CEMS Exchange, MBA Exchange, 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 and MSc in Risk and Finance. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course is about philosophical and ethical issues related to the conduct of business. Some tough-minded people believe that business is like a game where winning means making as much money as possible. They believe that "business ethics" does not exist, that it is a contradiction in terms, and that whoever thinks otherwise -- whoever thinks that business is also about treating others respectfully -- is either naive, or deluded, or both. What these tough-minded people do not realise is that they are, in fact, making an ethical claim. They claim that, while we generally have ethical obligations towards others in society, when it comes to the game of business everyone is 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. So, inadvertently, they are doing business ethics.

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 ethical solutions or dogmatic responses, but to practice ethical reasoning, analytical skills, and critical thinking, so that towards the end of the course, you will no longer be satisfied with simple answers to difficult problems. You will also practice argumentative and writing skills that will help you express your thoughts clearly and concisely.

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?
  • Do managers have instead moral responsibilities that are specific to their role as market actors, such as avoiding deception, fraud, or environmental degradation?
  • What, if anything, is wrong with exploitation? If sweatshop workers voluntarily choose to work under exploitative conditions because they want a job, are such working conditions acceptable then?
  • Should firms have an obligation to protect the privacy of their workers or customers?
  • Why and how should firms tackle gender discrimination in the workplace?
  • To what extent are the large pay packages that CEOs receive justified? What makes wages fair or unfair?

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


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

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of 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

(2015/16 - 2017/18 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 30
Merit 60
Pass 10
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2018/19: 25

Average class size 2018/19: 15

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information