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Business Ethics


Seele P.

Course director

Schultz M. D.



Course objectives
By the end of the Business Ethics course students will be able to:

  • Understand the underlying normative foundations of business, based on both a brief introduction to general ethics and the history of business ethics.
  • Gain a state-of-the-art understanding of the major topics in business ethics and discuss critical issue
  • Apply multilateral thinking: approaching ethical challenges in business from different ethical perspectives
  • Develop critical thinking: business ethics lives from questioning and challenging existing practices and concepts

Course description
Business ethics addresses ethical issues and challenges of companies against the background of legal, societal, environmental, and cultural frameworks corporations operate in. Unlike similar concepts such as ‘corporate social responsibility,’ ‘sustainable management,’ ‘corporate citizenship’ or ‘sustainable development,’ business ethics applies a more foundational perspective of normative implications of business conduct and the economy at large. The most fundamental ethical theories derived from practical philosophy are introduced (utilitarianism, virtue ethics, deontology, discourse ethics) and discussed against the antagonism of ‘morals’ and ‘ethics.’

Topics to be discussed in the course are: 
1. (on an micro level): good life, ethical leadership, individual responsibility, whistle-blowing, or gender topics such as ‘social egg freezing.’ 
2. (on a meso level): code of ethics/conduct, corporate culture, gender/diversity in business, compliance, or good governance.
3. (on a macro level): economic system, social cohesion, order ethics, global business ethics, future of capitalism and digitalization.
Additionally, key terms such as freedom, value, utility, common good, or deliberation are presented and discussed. Following several major scandals such as the Enron collapse, the Rana-Plaza building collapse, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and most recently, the diesel emission scandal managerial implications and legal consequences are discussed and reflected. 

Towards the end of the course, more contemporary issues stemming from USI-based research are discussed regarding digitalization, blockchain, or instant-transparency.

Learning methods
In the course, different teaching and learning methods are applied. Among the most used are: lectures, presentations, group discussions, working groups, case studies, and open space.


Examination information
100 % Exam

Required material

  • Brenkert, G., & Beauchamp, T. (2012). The Oxford handbook of business ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Crane, A., & Matten, D. (2010). Business ethics: Managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Dierksmeier, C. (2016), “What is ‘Humanistic’ About Humanistic Management?”, Humanistic Management Journal,1/1, pp. 9–32.
  • Dierksmeier, Claus; Seele, Peter (2016): Cryptocurrencies and Business Ethics. Journal of Business Ethics doi:10.1007/s10551-016-3298-0 (selected by Springer Editors-in-Chief in the collection: “Change the World”)
  • Enderle, G. (2016), “How Can Business Ethics Strengthen the Social Cohesion of a Society?”, Journal of Business Ethics, Springer Netherlands, pp. 1–11.
  • Freeman, E. (2000). Business ethics at the millennium. Business Ethics Quarterly, 10(1), 169–180.
  • Michalos, A., & Poff, D. (2013). Citation classics from the Journal of Business Ethics. Celebrating the first thirty years of publication. New York: Springer Books.
  • Saul, G.K. (1981), “Business Ethics: Where Are We Going?”, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 269–276.
  • Seele, P. (2016), “What Makes a Business Ethicist? A Reflection on the Transition from Applied Philosophy to Critical Thinking”, Journal of Business Ethics, Springer Netherlands, pp. 1–10.
  • Solomon, R.C. (2003), “Victims of circumstances? A defense of virtue ethics in business”, Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 43–62
  • Wicks, A. C., Freeman, R. E., & Werhane, P. (2009). Business ethics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.