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Unethical Decision Making - Advanced

  • Teacher(s):  
  • Course given in: English
  • ECTS Credits:
  • Schedule: Autumn Semester 2019-2020, 2.0h. course (weekly average)
  •  sessions
  • site web du cours course website
  • Related programmes:
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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 3-credit-course "Unethical Decision Making - Advanced" is a follow-up course on “Unethical Decision Making - Basics". Whereas the Basics course mainly takes place in the virtual space (with a few sessions in the classroom), the Advanced course will consist of seven classroom sessions, each lasting for four hours. The course will start in week 8, on November 6th. Participants will have to deliver assignments in the form of reflection essays during the course (some of them will be group assignements).

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


The following articles and videos build the backbone of the course and are important to understand unethical decision making. Some of those texts will be relevant for your reflection papers (these appear in bold).

Ashcroft, Ross. Documentary The Four Horsemen.

Ashforth, B. E. & Anand, V. 2003. The normalization of corruption in organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior, 25: 1-52.

DiMaggio, P. & Powell, W. 1983. The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields, American Sociological Review, 48(2): 147-160.

Friedman, M. 1970. The social responsibility of business is to increase its profit. New York Times Magazine, September 13. Reprinted in Donaldson, T., & Werhane, P. H. (Eds.). 1970. Ethical issues in business: 217–223. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Havel, V. 1984. Living in truth. Extract from: Politics and conscience. Reprint in: Living in truth: 22 Essays published on the occasion of the award of the Erasmus price to Vaclav Havel. Faber & Faber Pub.

Oreske, N. & Conway, E. M. 2013. The collapse of Western civilization. Daedalus, 142: 40-58

Orwell, G. 1983. “1984”. Penguin Books, extracts

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

Vaccaro, A. & Palazzo, G. 2015: Values against violence. Institutional change in societies dominated by organized crime. Academy of Management Journal, 58:1075-1101.


Attendance to the course "Unethical Decision Making - Basics".

If you chose this course, be aware of one important rule: We do not allow the use of electronic devices, be it laptops, mobile phones or ipads during class. Research has clearly shown that this is bad for concentration as well as for the ability to process and memorize information. If you want to join the advanced course, your compliance with this condition is required. There will be one exception for laptops: In session 5 where you present your group work, the use of laptops will be allowed.


First attempt

Without exam (cf. terms)  

35% Three essays for sessions 2, 4, 6 (in weeks 9, 11, 13)

15% Group presentation of a scandal

50% Final Essay


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. The grades for a group assignment and for the reflections after classes cannot be changed.

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