Course Detail

Designing a Good Life (38870, 50 Unit Course)

Course Description by Faculty

  • Epley, Nicholas
  • Content

    This class rests on the simple assumption that you want to live a “good life,” in three senses of the word. First, “good” in the sense of being successful.  Second, “good” in the sense of being ethical and honorable.  Third, “good” in the sense of well-being, living a life rich in happiness, meaning, and purpose.  If you wanted to increase your odds of living a good life in all three senses, what would you do?  If you wanted to lead an organization that not only did well but also did “good,” how would you lead it?  If you wanted to manage a team that also lived a good life, how should you manage them?

    This is primarily an ethics course, but it is not a typical ethics course.  We will not spend time discussing ethical dilemmas, or trying to decide what is right or wrong in ethical gray areas.  Science simply does not offer any definitive moral authority on these issues.  Instead, we will adopt a psychological approach to understanding ethical behavior.  We will try to provide some answers to the most fundamental problem in all of ethics: why do good people sometimes do bad things?  Answering this question requires an understanding of the fundamental psychological processes that govern human thought and behavior in ethical domains.  It requires understanding the processes underlying moral psychology.  These psychological processes can lure anyone—including you and me—into the ethical lapses that ruin careers, destroy businesses, and bring shame to individuals and organizations.  Understanding these processes will give you insights into how you would design your life, your organization, and your team so that you not only do well in life, but also live a good life. 

    Our first class addresses whether the first two senses of a good life are aligned or not.  Does doing good lead to doing well?  Does ethics pay?  Although you do not need to make a business case for ethics in order to justify ethics in business, I believe it is helpful to know whether or not there is a business case for ethics to be made.  Classes 2, 3, and 4 address the psychological mechanisms that can lead good people to do bad things.  These mechanisms all identify how you would design an organization, or your own life, in a way that increases the likelihood of ethical behavior.  These three classes will show you how to design a more ethical organization.

    We will end this course in class 5 by discussing what scientists have learned about the third aspect of a good life: happiness and wellbeing. Ethics and hedonics are sometimes described as opposites: either you do good or you feel good, but you don’t do both.  One’s own interests and others’ interests may be zero-sum.  The existing empirical evidence on wellbeing demonstrates that this is simply untrue.  I will describe surprising research showing how doing good can lead to feeling good, and show you can use this knowledge to design an organization whose people are happy, and how to increase happiness in your own personal life.

    Course Format
    This course will involve a combination of lecture, class discussion, in-class and out-of-class exercises, and occasional case discussion.

    View video course description for more details.

    Class Meets Summer 2023:  8/14, 8/15, 8/17, 8/18, 8/19


  • Prerequisites
    Prereq:  Cannot enroll if 38119 taken previously.
    • No non-Booth Students

  • Grades
    Individual and Group Thought papers (60% of final grade), two of which are written individually and three are written in a group. A final paper describing an ethical audit of an organization written in a small group (40% of final grade). The final paper is a written group paper due several weeks after class, and is submitted online.
    • No pass/fail grades

  • Syllabus
  • Summer 2023Section: 38870-88EMBA2 2:00PM-5:00PMHarper CenterC0950 Unit Course
Description and/or course criteria last updated: February 20 2023