PH225      Half Unit
Business and Organisational Ethics

This information is for the 2022/23 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 arising in the conduct of business. There is a growing consensus that businesses should not merely focus on maximizing profit while respecting the Law, they should also take on ethical and social responsibilities beyond what is required by Law. The aim of this course is to give you intellectual tools to think clearly and rigorously about business ethics and corporate social responsibility.

You will learn about different ethical theories and apply them to a variety of real-world business challenges. You will also practice argumentative and writing skills that will help you express your thoughts in a rigorous and convincing way. Importantly, this course will not present you with a code of ethics, ready-made solutions or dogmatic answers. Instead, you will practice ethical reasoning, analytical skills, and critical thinking so that, towards the end of the course, you will be able to develop your own ideas and you will no longer be satisfied with simple answers to difficult problems.

The first half of the course (weeks 1-5) introduces important theories in business ethics and discusses best practices regarding executive compensations, sweatshop labour, environmental protection, and market failures. The second half of the course (weeks 7-11) applies these theories to new challenges in the context of emerging technologies such as value-alignment in artificial intelligence (AI), the protection of privacy in the workplace, human and algorithmic discrimination, and socio-economic inequalities resulting from digital platforms and automation.

Topics discussed in this course include:

  • Are business executives' large compensation packages justified?
  • Is Nike wrong to subcontract their production to sweatshops hiring workers in exploitative conditions?
  • How to understand BP's environmental responsibility after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?
  • Can Facebook protect free speech while using artificial intelligence in content moderation?
  • Should firms have an obligation to protect their workers' and customers' privacy?
  • Can algorithmic bias lead to wrongful discrimination in hiring?
  • Have platforms like Uber and Airbnb improved the market or have they created unfair inequalities?


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

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

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce one formative essay (1500 words) in the LT.

Students will be expected to answer weekly formative quizzes (required, unassessed).

Indicative reading

James Rachels and Stuart Rachels (2012) The Elements of Moral Philosophy (7th ed.), New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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

Joseph Heath (2014) Morality, Competition, and the Firm: The Market Failures Approach to Business Ethics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

David Vogel (2005) The Market for Virtue: the potential and limits of corporate social responsibilityWashington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

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

Helen Nissenbaum (1998) "Protecting Privacy in an Information Age: The Problem of Privacy in Public", Law and Philosophy, 17(5-6): 559-596.

Cynthia Dwork (2018) "The Emerging Theory of Algorithmic Fairness: The Challenges to Making Machines Play Fair", The Royal Society, You and AI conference series.

Annette Zimmermann, Elena Di Rosa, Hochan Kim (2020) "Technology can’t fix Algorithmic Injustice", Boston Review.

Diane Coyle (2017) "Precarious and productive work in the digital economy", National Institute Economic Review 240: 5-14.

Required readings amount to about two papers per week.


Essay (50%, 2000 words) and essay (50%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
First 34.1
2:1 52.8
2:2 11.4
Third 0.8
Fail 0.8

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2021/22: 62

Average class size 2021/22: 15

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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