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Unethical Decision Making - Advanced

  • Teacher(s):   U.Hoffrage   G.Palazzo  
  • Course given in: English
  • ECTS Credits: 3 credits
  • Schedule: Autumn Semester 2020-2021, 2.0h. course (weekly average)
  •  sessions
  • site web du cours course website
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Why do people behave unethically? While this has been a key question for philosophers over the last 2000 years, a rising tide of corporate scandals – from Enron to Siemens – has put this question high on the agenda of corporate decision makers. Corporations are exposed to the increasing risk of unethical/illegal behaviour with tremendous financial consequences. Such deviant behaviour can even destroy a company as in the case of Arthur Andersen or Lehman Brothers.

The overarching objective is to prepare students for the unavoidable ethical risks they will face in their future organizational life. Students will understand the driving forces of unethical decision making within organizations. They will be familiar with various literatures (Management, Sociology, Psychology, Philosophy) that can be used to understand those forces. The seminar will enable them to analyze risks of unethical behavior in various contexts and to develop interventions to reduce such risks in organizations.


Whenever we hear about corporate scandals, we have the tendency to believe that unethical or illegal behavior in organizations is driven by the character deficiencies of individual actors. Put differently, we simply assume that bad things are done by bad people (often referred to as “bad apples”). Examining recent research in psychology, philosophy and sociology, Guido Palazzo and Ulrich Hoffrage (together with Franciska Krings) have developed a new concept to understand unethical behaviour in organizations – the concept of ethical blindness which builds the thread of this course.

Ethical blindness builds on the assumption that contexts can be stronger than reason. If put in a bad context, even good people may do bad things. Regardless of their good intentions and strong values, individual actors might adapt to the deviant practices in their respective organizational context and, over time, lose the ability to see that what they do is wrong. They become ethically blind. If we want to better protect individuals as well as their respective organizations against the deviant power of the context, we have to understand, why and under what conditions, good people make bad ethical decisions.

This course stretches over seven weeks in the second half of the semester. In two weeks (9 and 11) there will be no sessions, but the time will be devoted to homework assignments. The other five sessions will be held online, using Zoom. The link for these sessions will be provided on the moodle. Physical presence on campus is at no point necessary. There will also be no exam at the end, but a final essay with the task to look at a scandal through the theoretical lenses acquired in both courses (basics and advanced).


Palazzo, G.; Krings, F. & Hoffrage, U. 2012: Ethical blindness. Journal of Business Ethics, 109: 323–338

This article builds the backbone of the course. More references can be found on the course page.


Attendance to the course "Unethical Decision Making - Basics". Students who have not attended the course “Unethical Decision Making – Basics” cannot take this follow-up course “Unethcial Decision Making – Advanced”.

Having installed and being able to handle the Zoom software for videoconferences.


First attempt

Without exam (cf. terms)  

30% Individual Assignments. These are short essays for sessions 1 and 6 (weeks 8 and 13), and some peer evaluations (after class)

30% Group Assignments. These are two discussions of movies in weeks 9 and 11 (for sessions 10 and 12), and a video presentation of a scandal (after class)

40% Final Essay. Analysis of a scandal. (1200 words, due January 20th)


Without exam (cf. terms)  

If the overall score results in a non-passing grade, then each component that received a non-passing grade needs to be redone. If the component for group assignments is below threshold, it will be replaced by individual assignments.

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