PH225      Half Unit
Business and Organisational Ethics

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Mr Thomas Ferretti


This course is available on the BSc in Management, BSc in Philosophy and Economics, BSc in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and Philosophy, International Exchange (1 Term) and International Exchange (Full Year). This course is not available as an outside option. This course is available to General Course students.

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 papers per week.


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

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of LT.

This year, some or all of this teaching will take place online.

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 (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (50%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
First 30.8
2:1 45.1
2:2 22.6
Third 0.8
Fail 0.8

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2019/20: 52

Average class size 2019/20: 13

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information