The primary aim of this class is to help students define for themselves a canon of business ethics that is tailored to their professional goals. We will build a vocabulary for talking about business ethics by examining the work of a wide variety of authors – from economists and entrepreneurs to philosophers, journalists, and revolutionaries – all of whom have written about the place of business (and the business professional) in the modern world. These authors include Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, Karl Marx, George Orwell, Ayn Rand, and, most importantly, Adam Smith, whose work we will revisit throughout the course. Topics include:
• The Nature of Self-Interest
• The Role of Empathy in Commercial Relationships
• The Moral Status of Usefulness
• Philanthropy and the Responsibilities of Wealth
• The Free-Market as an Engine for Virtue and Vice
• The Ideals of Capitalism vs. Lived Experience
The questions we will take up are large, contentious, and open-ended. Through in-class and online discussion, the course will help students determine their own answers, defend them intelligently, and recognize the merits of answers that other students give.
Please note that this class takes a “great books” approach to the topic of business ethics. As such, while contemporary events will be used as illustrations in class discussion, the readings for the course are drawn from seminal works of history, literature, and political economy from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries rather than from traditional case studies. Please also note that this class requires students to complete weekly writing assignments as well as a two-part take-home final exam.
Because of the highly interactive nature of the course, attendance is required at all class meetings.