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Morrissey College of Arts and Science

PL434 Ethics in the Professions

capstone program

Richard A. Spinello

Faculty, Department of Operations and Strategic Management

Fulton Hall 346
Telephone: 617-552-1189
FAX: 617-552-0433

Required Texts

  • The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius, trans. R. Green
  • The Ethics of Authenticity, Charles Taylor
  • Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II
  • HBS Case Studies (package available at BC Bookstore)

Performance Evaluation

The factors to be taken into account in determining the student's final grade are the following:

  • Class Participation/Attendance - 20%
  • Intellectual/Moral Development Biography - 20%
  • Written Assignments - 40%
  • Take-Home Final Exam - 20%

Course Description

This course deals with two distinct but complementary approaches to ethics. Its chief concern is how to analyze various moral dilemmas that arise in professions such as law, medicine, and business. Before considering a number of cases highlighting such dilemmas, we will lay the foundation by reviewing some general ethical frameworks along with common themes in moral philosophy such as the relationship between ethics and anthropology. Generic ethical issues to be discussed will include confidentiality, deception and lying, fundamental human rights, and autonomy.

In addition to this sort of analysis, the course also focuses on the most fundamental ethical issue of all: how does the human person flourish and live a worthwhile life? This dimension of the course encourages serious self-scrutiny as it addresses larger moral questions such as the following. Is moral authenticity possible? What is the connection between truth and freedom? Is God necessary to achieve ultimate happiness? Is virtue really its own reward? How do we manage the relationship between our professional and personal lives? We will rely on two short philosophical treatises, a movie, and several essays to help us reflect on these questions.

Course Outline

Readings Code: (CP) Cases or other readings in course package; (H) Handout

Part I: Common Themes in Moral Philosophy

Week 1
  • Introduction: The Great Questions of Ethics+
  • Anthropology and Ethics
  • *The Tradition of Personalism
  • The Acting Person, ch. 4, available online
Week 2
  • The Moral Person: Two Contrasting Views
  • Excerpt from Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals (H)
  • Excerpt from Machiavelli's The Prince, ch. XV and XVII-XVIII
  • Case Study Parable of the Sadhu (CP) [includes video]
  • Critical Overview of Ethical Frameworks (CP)
    **Read and think about the exercises at the end of this reading, p. 18.
Week 3
  • Moral Responsibility and Virtue
  • Case Study: Who's Responsible? (CP)
  • Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, Bk 3, ch. 1 (H)
  • Morality and Rights
  • Case Study: "Where is He?" (A) (CP)
Week 4
  • The New Natural Law
  • The Grisez-Finnis Model
  • The Natural Law Tradition and Business Ethics (CP)
  • Case Study: The Serpent was There (H)
  • Morality and Consequences
  • Utility as a Moral Principle
  • Case Study: Truman and the Bomb (H)
    **Study Questions for class debate on Truman Case: What normative justifications are commonly offered for Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs against Japan? If you had been Secretary of War, what advice would you have given Truman?
Week 5
  • Horizons of Meaning—Overcoming Subjectivism
  • The Ethics of Authenticity, ch. I through X
  • Short reflection paper due on key themes in Taylor book

Part II: The Ultimate Ethical Questions
(Happiness, Moral Evil, The Good Life)

Week 6
  • *The Questions
  • "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (Movie by Woody Allen)
Week 7
  • *One Philosopher’s Answers
  • The Consolation of Philosophy: Books 1-4
  • What is Happiness? (H)
  • *Written assignment due on Woody Allen movie and Boethius.

Part III: Ethical Dilemmas in the Professions

Week 8

Dilemmas in the Legal Profession

  • *Zealous Advocacy and Related Issues
  • Case Study: Pinocchio's Lawyer (H) [video]
  • Case Study: Four Ethical Questions++ (CP)
Week 9
  • *The Limits of Confidentiality
  • Case Study: The Lake Pleasant Bodies Case (A, B) (CP)
  • Excerpts from the ABA Code (H)

Ethics and Business

  • *Responsibilities to Investors
  • Case Study: Martha Stewart (A) (CP)
  • Note on Insider Trader Liability (CP)
  • Video: Business Ethics with Paul Solman
Week 10
  • *Responsibilities to Investors (cont’d)
  • Case Study: Innovation Corrupted: The Rise and Fall of Enron (A, B) (CP)
  • The Smartest Guys in the Room (movie on Enron case)
  • *Responsibilities to Customers
  • Case Study: ProTech (A) (CP)
Week 11

Issues in Health Care and Bioethics

  • *Embryonic Stem Cell Research
  • Debate Question: "The Morality of Embryonic Stem Cell Research?"
  • Case Study: Scandal or Opportunity? (CP)
  • *Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia
  • Case Study: Sue Rodrigez v. Attorney General of Canada (H)
  • Evangelium Vitae ch. 1-3)
Week 12
  • *Confidentiality
  • Case Study: The Child Psychiatrist and the Pedophile (H)
  • Confidentiality and the Prediction of Dangerousness in Psychiatry (H)

Part IV: Concluding Reflections

Weeks 13/14

Course Summary and Wrap-up

  • **Intellectual/Moral Development Biographies Due.
    Classes will be largely devoted to a discussion of the biographies.
May 10 **Final Papers Due

+The question of the morally admirable and the question of the just—these are the subject-matter of political science [of which ethics is the primary part], and they are the subject of such variety and fluctuation that people think they are matters not of nature but of mere convention. And there is similar fluctuation of opinion about goods; for goods frequently bring harms: wealth, for example, has brought ruin to some men, and courage, ruin to others. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1.3: 1097b14-17

"Is it not better that one innocent person be put to death than that the whole people perish?" Caiphas, John 11:50. "Is it not better to suffer injustice rather than do it?" Plato, Gorgias, 469c

++These are short cases based on common problems that arise in the legal profession: "May a Lawyer Seek a Court Order the Lawyer Considers Unjust?"; "May a Lawyer Help a Client Violate the Law?"; "May a Defense Attorney Impugn the Testimony of an Honest Witness?"; "Must a Lawyer Return a Contingency Fee Paid by a Lying Client?"