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Unethical Decision Making - Advanced

  • Teacher(s):  
  • Course given in: English
  • ECTS Credits:
  • Schedule: Autumn Semester 2021-2022, 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. The current plan is to have physical classroom sessions every week, though uncertainty about future developments may impose some constraints on us and force us to be flexible. Irrespective of this uncertainty and flexibility, a few things can already be stated now and will not change: (1) Physical presence on campus will at no point be necessary and absence will not be penalized – in fact, the grading scheme does not involve a component for contribution. (2) The sessions will be both life-streamed and recorded, and the recordings will be made available on the moodle. (3) There will be no sit-in exam at the end, but a final project, to be completed in January 2022, that will be centered around a scandal of your choice.


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”.


First attempt

Without exam (cf. terms)  

25% First Assignment (groups of up to four, or individual). Analysis of two movies (800 words, due for session 4).

25% Second Assignment (individual). Analysis of a scandal (600 words, due for session 5).

50% Final Essay (teams or individual). Analysis of a scandal of your choice (2000 words for teams of two, 1200 words for individuals, 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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