Business Ethics, Spring 2017 Syllabus

PDF of Syllabus

Instructor: Keith Buhler
Twitter: keith_buhler
Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday, 12-1pm; after class; by appointment
Text: Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics, Brenkert & Beauchamp Oxford, 2010. First Edition. Available at UK bookstore and online.

Course Description

Some of the toughest decisions we make have to do with business and money. As employees, managers, business owners, and even as consumers, we buy, use, create, or recycle the products of business. This course helps us to think philosophically about business, capitalism and wealth, fairness, social justice, product safety, bribery and lobbying, globalization and trade, privacy and whistle blowing. We may branch out to related tangents including logic, public policy, anthropology, religion, law, and more.

Ethics is a branch of philosophy. So we will also reflect on the basics of right and wrong. We will practice deep and careful thinking about fundamental topics and apply such thinking to business: what is worthwhile? Who is truly successful? What is private property?

Although each of us comes to this course from their own moral tradition and background, we will challenge ourselves and others with respect, understanding ourselves better, and disagreeing respectfully. We will clarify our terms, evaluate arguments for and against reasonable positions and come to our own conclusions.

Despite the abstractness of these topics, the ultimate objective is that we can act well when hard decisions come.


  • to understand business as part of life, and part of ethics, public policy, and philosophy
  • to become familiar with major ethical theories, especially: virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and deontology
  • to understand our own ethical tradition better and that of others
  • to grow intellectually by critically analyzing articles, books, studies, and news articles about business
  • and thereby to become more virtuous people capable of handling difficult life circumstances.

Scope and Sequence

The course is broken into 10 units of 1-2 weeks each.

  • Unit 1. Basics of Business Ethics (weeks 1-2)
  • Unit 2. Ethical Theories (3-4)
  • Unit 3. Capitalism and Socialism (5-6)
  • Unit 4. Relativism (7)
  • Unit 5. Inside Job (8)
  • Unit 6. Privacy (9)
  • Unit 7. Lobbying (10)
  • Unit 8. Employees (11-12)
  • Unit 9. Safety (13)
  • Unit 10. Moral Businesses (14-15)

Each Unit consists of (a) readings and quizzes, (b) lectures and discussions, and (c) every other unit has a paper. The readings and lectures are an opportunity to do analysis, the discussions and papers synthesis.


Your grade for the class will depend on your performance in each course component, plus tests and applicable extra credit.To get an ‘A’: (a) read carefully every week, (b) attend and participate in class through talking and/or writing, (c) study hard for the tests, and (d) write the Unit Papers according to the given instructions.

Assessment %
Readings (quizzes) 25%
Participation 25%
Unit Papers 50%

Outline (Short)

The outline tells you the reading due each day, the topic. The outline is subject to minor changes for weather, sicknesses, travel, etc. The online version is always up to date.

Week 1 Basics

W Jan-11 Syllabus day (no reading)
F Jan-13 Basic Philosophy: Peter Kreeft, Truth Handout

Week 2 Methods and Business Ethics

M Jan-16 MLK Day
W Jan-18 Green and Donovan, “Methods of Business Ethics”
F Jan-20 Discussion of Methods

Week 3 Ethical Theories I

M Jan-23 Audi, “the Place of Ethical Theory” 46-56
W Jan-25 Audi, “the Place of Ethical Theory” 56-66
F Jan-27 Discussion of Ethical Theories

Week 4 Ethical Theories II

M Jan-30 Virtue Ethics Handout
W Feb-1 Religious Ethics Slideshow
F Feb-3 Writing Workshop for Unit Paper Disputation

Week 5 Capitalism

(Unit paper 1 - Ethical Theories, due Monday by midnight)
M Feb-6 Gaus, “The Idea and Ideal of Capitalism”
W Feb-8 Gaus, “The Idea and Ideal of Capitalism”
F Feb-10 Discussion of Capitalism and Stock Market

Week 6 Economic Justice

M Feb-13 Goodpastor, “Corporate Responsibility and its Constituents”
W Feb-15 Boatright, “Executive Compensation”
F Feb-17 Discussion of Economic Justice and CEO Pay

Week 7 Universal Norms

(Unit paper 2 - CEO pay Due Monday at midnight)
M Feb-20 Beauchamp, “Relativism, Multiculturalism, and Universal Norms” (Group 1)
W Feb-22 Gould, “Moral Issues in Globalization” (Group 2)
F Feb-24 Kreeft, “Moral Law” handout, and Discussion of Moral Norms

Week 8 Inside Job

M Feb-27 Inside Job (film) Parts I-III introduction
W Mar-1 Inside Job Parts I-IV
F Mar-3 Inside Job Part V and discussion

Week 9 Information

(Unit paper 3 - Moral Law Due Monday at midnight)
M Mar-6 Deception and Information Disclosure (Group 3)
W Mar-8 Intellectual Property Rights (Group 4)
F Mar-10 Discussion

Break Mar 13-17

Week 10 Incentives

M Mar-20 Conflicts of Interest (Group 5)
W Mar-22 Business in Politics: Lobbying (Group 6)
F Mar-24 Discussion

Week 11 Affirmative Action

(Unit Paper 4 - Deception or Lobbying, Due Monday at midnight)
M Mar-27 Boxill, Discrimination, Affirmative Action, and Diversity (Group 7)
W Mar-29 Boxill, Discrimination, Affirmative Action, and Diversity
F Mar-31 Discussion of Affirmative Action

Week 12 Whistle-Blowing

M Apr-3 Brenkert, Whistle-Blowing, Moral Integrity (Group 8)
W Apr-5 Brenkert, Whistle-Blowing, Moral Integrity
F Apr-7 Discussion

Week 13 Safety

M Apr-10 Arnold, Working Conditions (Group 9)
W Apr-12 Hasnas, The Mirage of Product Safety (Group 10)
F Apr-14 Discussion of Safety

Week 14 Moral Climate

(Unit Paper 5 - Affirmative Action or Safety)
M Apr-17 Bowie, Organizational Integrity and Moral Climates
W Apr-19 Bowie, Organizational Integrity and Moral Climates
F Apr-21 Discussion of Organizational Integrity

Week 15 Christmas Carol (Dead week)

M Apr-24 Writing Workshop for Term Paper
W Apr-26 Christmas Carol (film)
F Apr-28 Christmas Carol

Finals Week

M May-1 Final Paper Due by 11:59PM online.
W May-3 Reflection paper due / Extra Credit due F May-5 Grades in

  1. How to invest
  2. Regulation as panacea or placebo?
  3. Bombas Socks, like Tom’s and Warby-Parker, which donates socks for every purchase



Letter Grade Percentage
A 99%-90%
B 89%-80%
C 79% - 70%
D 69% - 60%
F < 59%

Reading tips

Read ahead. There is a lot of reading but read carefully and slowly as need be; you will get faster, but start slow and careful. Try to read and understand the book or essay. Ask yourself: What is the main thesis? Is it true? Take notes. Talk with each other before class. Ask yourselves and each other: What is the main point? What confused me? Come to class with objections, questions, and arguments. More are tips available online.


Short reading quizzes assess that you read the day’s text. These are easy points, so be diligent in doing every quiz.


Attendance is mandatory; we need you here! Roll will be taken each class by marking a 3x5 card. (Being repeatedly or egregiously late will count as an absence.) You may check your absences at any time by requesting to see your card in person. I do not email attendance information. Aim for perfect attendance to maximize your learning.

That said, I give 2 personal absences as freebies. These 2 personal absences may be used without penalty for for any reason, including family visits, sickness, sports, or sleep. For other reasons, you need an excuse. The 3rd unexcused absence will cost a 2% deduction from the semester grade. This continues per absence. 6 unexcused absences is a letter grade and 9 will make a passing grade impossible.

  • 1 = -0
  • 2 = -0
  • 3 = -2%
  • 4 = -4%
  • 5 = -6%
  • 6 = -10% (a letter grade)
  • 7 = -12%
  • 8 = -14%
  • 9 = -50%


The primary competency of this class is philosophical dialog. Hence, you must attend and participate. Class time is primarily focused on discussion of the material for which I expect you to be fully engaged.

To earn participation points, you will voluntarily share your thoughts in discussion at least once per week, and/or respond when called upon. You are not required to write posts on the discussion board online. By default, everyone is an “external processor”.

“Internal processors”: Some may wish to opt out of speaking in class and emphasize writing. To earn participation points, you will post class reflections online every week. You may elect to speak in class as well, and may be called upon.

Everyone starts at an 80% (B-) for the participation grade. You will move up or down depending on whether you pay attention and speak at least once per week. (I prohibit the use of electronic devices in class, although laptop users may request permission to sit in the front of class with their computers.) Other discussion ground rules are posted online.

You are responsible to talk in class. Even if you are confused, tired, or unmotivated, I expect you to make yourself participate and engage. Get out of your comfort zone into your growth zone. Come prepared. Read, take notes, reflect, and come ready to share your viewpoint, defend it, listen to others’ viewpoints, and critique theirs.

We dialog so much because: (1) You must take responsibility for your own learning. (2) We can actually get to know each other. (3) Most people learn (and retain) best in discussion. (4) Philosophy is dialogical.

Critical Readings:

You may be assigned a group “critical reading” assignment. Your group must meet ahead of time to read and discuss the assignment more thoroughly than your normal reading. You will then summarize the reading, analyze it, and present your own opinions. One or all of you will present your summary to the class. Instructions are posted online.

Unit Papers

Every student will write several Unit Papers. These Unit Papers help you synthesize your own views after doing the readings and listening to lectures and participating in the discussions. Be careful to cite your sources correctly, because I do not tolerate plagiarism. Papers may receive a letter grade or may be graded pass/fail -- so follow the instructions closely. The instructions are posted online.

Extra Credit

Those who opt for extra credit may do so. You may do extra reading, extra writing, extra class preparation, for up to 5% of the semester grade. The normal amount of extra credit awarded is 2%. The only way to earn all 5% is to do multiple types of extra credit and do them well. Full instructions are posted online.

Late Work

In general, I do not accept late work. Plan ahead and do work early before vacations, sports trips, or busy times. Do the quizzes ahead of time to avoid technical difficulties. Valid excuses for turning in papers late include medical or family emergencies, or abnormal technical failures. That said, due dates are not eternal laws; I willing to negotiate within reason. If you are very stressed, or if I have not graded everything yet, we can talk about moving a due date. Just ask.


  1. Bring your textbook to every class.
  2. Participate. Participation is your responsibility; I may or may not call on you. Challenge yourself!
  3. Stay focused. Do not distract yourself with side conversations, texting, Facebook, or doing anything else in class. Take a short mental break or bathroom break if you need to, but come back.
  4. No smart phones. No other electronics, laptops, tablets, phones, etc. Unplug, listen and engage. (If you have an important phone call or text, please step outside the class for a moment, then return.)
  5. No laptop/tablets. Rare exceptions must request permission to use their device. If approved, you must sit in the front row.
  6. Be respectful of others: Pay attention when a neighbor is talking. No teasing. Don’t pack up too early – 1 minute before the end of class is fine.
  7. Contact me. The best method is to chat before/after class. Second best is email, Canvas message, or Tweet; I read every email but may not respond to every email. If you need a response but I haven’t responded within three (3) days, email again with the subject “nudge”. (Please use
  8. Contact. For short, quick questions, use Twitter (keith_buhler)
  9. Email. You are expected to have an active e-mail account that you check regularly, and to check “news” or “announcements” section on Canvas (or Discovery, etc.). Section related announcements will be made on this platform and/or via e-mail (e.g. if I am sick, pointers for home work, change in due dates).
  10. Accommodations. Disabilities can be accommodated. Make sure you are properly registered with the Disability Resource Center.
  11. Plagiarism. Do not plagiarize. If I detect plagiarism, I will contact you. The assignment will receive a zero, and disciplinary action may follow. It may jeopardize your standing in the class. If you forget to quote a source, that’s still plagiarism. Also, if you intentionally take anyone else’s work or offer your work to anyone else (under whatever auspices). You’ll submit your papers to SafeAssign to help avoid accidental plagiarism. Don’t even think about stealing someone else’s thought/work. For more information, refer to academic integrity documents like this one.
  12. Enjoy yourself. We are not merely solving abstract puzzles here, but digging deeply into human thinking in a way that could change your life forever. The more you and your fellows allow yourselves to acquire a “taste” for the material, the more inclined you will be to give it the real effort required to master it.