Business Ethics Center

Ethical Discourse: The BEC Blog

A space for thoughts and reflections on contemporary and perennial ethical issues. 

Why Business Ethics is a (Hard) Practice                  

“Can people really change?’  More than one student has asked me this after being confronted with a wealth of information from the biological and cognitive sciences suggesting that the ethical aspirations championed by various philosophies and religions, those moral guidelines that are the foundation for ethical business practices, are up against forces that often enough make a mockery of our intentions, our will.  And every afternoon, like clockwork, I am reminded of the reality of this when my ethisphere corpedia e-mail arrives (, totaling up the day’s ethical transgressions in the business world.  It is never a short e-mail. How to explain the endless stream of business people. . . Read More

Would an Ethics Course Help? (Part One)

Hard to say what changes people.  For the worse, power has always been the leading candidate, with money close behind.  For the better, children, surviving something life-threatening, or a religious experience usually make the list.  Other possibilities – and put them in the category you like – include travel, being fired, losing a parent, finding love, psychoanalysis, and the Red Sox winning the World Series.  It’s rare that anyone will say, “I know, it was that Ethics course I took.”  Sure, people will say education, and if your education hasn’t left any visible mark on you it’s either because...

Would an Ethics Course Help? (Part Two)

In Part One of my reflection I suggested that while difficult, the teaching of ethics is certainly not impossible. So then, how to go about it? What might make some actual difference to students who come across these courses? And again, lest anyone think this is purely academic, in their 2004 report on the rather sorry state of ethics education in business schools, the AACSB (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) twice mentioned that business schools do have some obligation to “make the world a better place.” Music to a moral philosopher’s ears. Especially one like me, who thinks that business is an integral part of the moral fabric of any society, not some...

Brief Interlude

In a recent Vanity Fair article titled “The Man Who Crashed the World,” Michael Lewis (author of a number of justly celebrated books and articles on Wall Street) offers this telling paragraph:

How and why their miracle became a catastrophe, A.I.G. F.P.’s traders say, is a complicated story, but it begins simply: with a change in the way decisions were made, brought about by a change in its leadership. At the end of 2001 its second C.E.O., Tom Savage, retired, and his former deputy, Joe Cassano, was elevated. Savage is a trained mathematician who understood the models used by A.I.G. traders to price the risk they were running–and thus ensure that they were fairly paid for it. He enjoyed debates about both the models and the merits of A.I.G. F.P.’s various trades. Cassano knew a lot less math and had much less interest in debate.

While it’s true, fortunately, that there are not all that many people in a position to “crash the world,”...


Page last modified March 12, 2014