PH425      Half Unit
Business and Organisational Ethics

This information is for the 2024/25 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Nikhil Venkatesh


This course is available on the CEMS Exchange, MBA Exchange, MSc in Management of Information Systems and Digital Innovation, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Economics and the Social Sciences and MSc in Philosophy of Science. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course is about the ethical issues arising in the conduct of business and public administration. The first few weeks of the course will introduce you to some fundamental ideas in moral and political philosophy. Then, we will apply these ideas to a variety of problems that you may face during a career in business or government.


What responsibility do businesses have to society? Is it okay to lie, bribe, or exploit others if it’s good for your business? How should civil servants weigh the interests of different citizens? Is there anything that should never be sold?


This course will not present you with a code of conduct, ready-made solutions or dogmatic answers. Instead, you will practice logical reasoning, careful analysis and critical thinking to enable you to develop your own understanding of ethical problems, with the help of philosophy. Through discussions and essays you will also develop skills in argument and writing that will help you express your thoughts in a rigorous and convincing way.


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

This course has a reading week in Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce one formative essay (word limit 1500 words), which will then be revised, following feedback, into a summative essay (2000 words).

Indicative reading

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.

Sissela Bok (1999) Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. New York: Vintage Books.

Janet Radcliffe Richards (1996) “Nephrarious Goings On: Kidney Sales and Moral Arguments”, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 21:375-416.

Joseph Heath (2020) The Machinery of Government: Public Administration and the Liberal State, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Julia Driver (2009) “Normative Ethics”, in The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Christopher McMahon (1981) “Morality and the Invisible Hand”, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 10(3):247-277.

Benjamin Powell & Matt Zwolinski (2012) “The Ethical and Economic Case Against Sweatshop Labor: A Critical Assessment”, Journal of Business Ethics, 107(4):449-472.

Fared Zakaria & Lee Kuan Yew (1994) “Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew”, Foreign Affairs, 73(2):109-126.

Charles Sherwood (2022) “A Lie Is a Lie: The Ethics of Lying in Business Negotiations”, Business Ethics Quarterly, 32(4):604-634.

Nikhil Venkatesh (2021) “Surveillance Capitalism: a Marx-inspired Account”, Philosophy 96(3):359-385.

Required readings amount to about two papers per week.


Essay (80%, 2000 words) in the WT.
Class participation (20%) in the AT.

The summative essay will be a revised version of the formative essay, submitted with a commentary on how it has been changed in the light of feedback.

The class participation grade will be based on teacher assessment of student contributions to class each week. Where students have missed classes with good reason, this will not adversely affect their grade.

Student performance results

(2020/21 - 2022/23 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 28.6
Merit 65.5
Pass 4.8
Fail 1.2

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2023/24: 30

Average class size 2023/24: 15

Controlled access 2023/24: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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