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Business Ethics Faculty Workshop: May 11, 2012

Module by: William Frey. E-mail the author

Summary: This module summarizes a faculty workshop on Business Ethics held at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez on May 11, 2012. It revolves around faculty responses to two panels. The first panel explored problem-solving, both how it can be taught and how it enters into the field of business ethics. The second panel outlines possibilities for the "reciprocal integration" of Business Administration and Liberal Arts, a pedagogical strategy outlined by the recent Carnegie Report to rethink undergraduate business education in the U.S. This module has been designed to help faculty carry out continuing education requirements for the Office of Governmental Ethics in Puerto Rico. It will also serve as a repository of resources useful in preparing for the workshop, carrying out the workshop, and carrying out activities that follow from the workshop. Finally, it responds to interdisciplinary concerns raised by the AACSB in a recent conference organized for Associate Deans in Business Schools. Business ethics, already an interdisciplinary discipline, will help identify skills and content that can be extended to other areas of the curriculum/ Identifying these skills in other areas help in the teaching of business ethics while business ethics develops skills that can be built on in more traditional areas of the business administration curriculum.

I. Introduction

Blaming Business Programs for the Financial Meltdown

The AACSB allows for different approaches to teaching business; each program should develop and continually refine a program that works with their resources, people, and orientations. Nevertheless, there are broader movements to change the business administration curriculum motivated by public reaction to the 2008 financial meltdown and the resultant, continuing world-wide recession. Many commentators have directly blamed university-based business programs claiming that they have imbued students with a get-rich-quick-at-any-cost mind-set. This is obviously an oversimplification but business administration programs ignore this negative public outcry at their own expense. Business school enrollment, especially in MBA progrmas, is down and previously successful programs find themselves competing for a smaller pool of students.

The Harvard Business School Study

In this workshop, we will explore two studies that look at best practices in innovative business pedagogy. First, a team from the Harvard Business School recommends pedagogical objectives for MBA programs based on in-depth case studies from outstanding schools already ahead of the curve. Their study was completed before the full effects of the financial meltdown were felt, but it has been updated to show how the pedagogical objectives they recommend resonate with public outcry for changes in the way business students are educated. In Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads, authors Datar, Garvin, and Cullen encapsulated MBA skills into Knowing, Doing, and Being. (More on this below.) Since this is a workshop on ethics, we will begin by seeing how Knowing, Doing, and Being can be imported into Business Ethics Education. But these skills sets are quite robust; what contributes to the teaching of business ethics will also contribute to the rest of the business administration curriculum. This skills-focused, interdisciplinary approach helps establish that we are already teaching business ethics across the curriculum. Recognizing and coordinating what we already do gets us ahead of the curve. But it also creates a space for business ethics in the curriculum. A skills-rich focus in business ethics, rather than robbing curricular space from other courses, adds value across the curriculum.

Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education

What holds at the graduate level also holds for undergraduates. The 2011 Carnegie Foundation Report, Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession, pushes moral development skills across the business curriculum. To bring this about, the authors promote a skills-based pedagogy encapsulated in the "reciprocal integration" of Liberal Learning (the Liberal Arts) and Business Administration education. These two words set forth the central challenge, and the best place to begin is where the offerings are neither reciprocal nor integrative. A philosopher tasked with teaching business ethics recently outlined his course as a concentrated study of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Mill, Kant, Nietzsche, and MacIntyre. After driving his students through this philosophical obstacle course, he conceded that he might cover a case or two in business "if I have any time left at the end of the semester." On the other hand, at a conference for business deans, small groups were tasked with discussing the "stupidest" idea their colleges were trying to implement. The answer one gave was the integration of all this Liberal Arts "stuff" into the business curriculum. More to the point, business educators generally recognize the need to integrate liberal arts education into the business curriculum but challenge their liberal arts colleagues to offer more than just traditional Liberal Arts fare such as discussing the "Great Books" or learning to write by interpreting poetry. In response, Liberal Arts teachers wonder how they can provide a service to business education without selling out their discipline. The place to begin is with both sides recognizing just how far they are from this reciprocal integration.

As Sullivan puts it in his introduction to the Carnegie Report, [t]he authors are not just prescribing the value of the liberal arts to ameliorate the ills of business education in particular or professional and civic education more generally. This is a far more radical proposal. They assert that liberal education itself is also in distress, too often taught in isolation and antiseptically removed from the humans and their problems from which it purports to derive and to which it claims relevance." Clearly, "reciprocal integration" require more than academic version of "parallel play" where each side watches the other "do its thing." To drive this point home, the authors (Colby, Ehrlich, Sullivan, and Dollie) outline four skill sets: analytical thinking, multiple framing, reflective exploration of meaning, and practical reasoning. The Carnegie Report provides ample illustrations of programs that deliver on each of these objectives. It also provides examples of business instructors coaching their liberal arts colleagues on how to reshape their content for business students.

Business ethics provides a unique opportunity to explore avenues of "reciprocal integration." In a recent conference devoted to teaching business ethics, four panelists discussed how they approached business ethics from their own disciplinary standpoints. Participants included a philosopher who built his course around the application of philosophical approaches such as Kant, Mill, and Aristotle, a sociologist who examined how to maintain an ethical career within large, diversely organized corporations, a management theorist who examined how ethics fit into decision-making and strategic management, and a corporate ethics compliance officer who discussed efforts to turn around a company with a bad ethics reputation. Not only is it possible to teach business ethics in a way that complements other business disciplines, it is probably necessary. Rethinking the MBA and rethinking undergraduate business education, requires refocusing efforts more on skills development and taking advantage of how these skills spill out into disciplines that cover the entire business educational spectrum.

With these introductory thoughts in mind, this module will explore these reports by looking at the skills sets brought forth by these two reports and the skill objectives they address. It will begin by exploring implications for business ethics, continue with teaching teamwork, proceed to social entrepreneurship, and conclude with problem-solving. Two panels will punctuate the activities of the day's workshop. The morning panel will explore teaching problem-solving across the curriculum while the afternoon panel will offer models for developing the "reciprocal integration" championed by the Carnegie Report.

II. Approaching Business Ethics


  • In his AACSB presentation, Cullen defines knowing as "facts, frameworks, and theories that make up the core understanding of a profession or practice."
  • Turning to Business Ethics this would cover the content that composes the traditional fare of these courses: ethical theory, basic moral concepts, intermediate moral concepts
  • Examples of theories would include: Deontology, Social Contract (Rights), Utilitarianism (Rule and Act), Virtue Ethics (ancient and modern), and Care Ethics.
  • Basic moral concepts are concepts that would form the content of any ethics course regardless of the "applied area. They would include rights, duties, responsibility, justice, beneficence, and non-maleficence. Different theories treat these concepts differently and philosophical ethics explains these differences by reference to different, underlying theoretical frameworks.
  • Intermediate moral concepts distinguish the domains of practical and professional ethics. Under engineering ethics, one would include the paramountcy of public welfare and safety, faithful agency, conflict of interest, confidentiality, collegiality, and professional reputation. A current debate is whether welfare covers social justice or whether social justice needs to be inserted alongside welfare in engineering codes of ethics and engineering ethics courses. Under business ethics one would discuss privacy, conflict of interest, loyalty, workplace rights, duties toward stakeholders, stakeholder rights, corporate social responsibility, and corporate legal (and moral) responsibility.
  • See media files below for tables that outline these concepts groups further.


  • In his AACSB presentation, Cullen defines doing "skills, capabilities, and techniques that lie at the heart of the practice of management."
  • Skill based pedagogy requires practice accompanied by expert and timely feedback. While the skills of moral expertise are more complicated, moral pedagogy does employ some of the same approaches as coaching a sport such as basketball. Teaching a skill requires breaking down a complex series of actions into their parts, mastering these through practice, and reintegrating the parts to accomplish the whole expertise. Acquiring a skills is tantamount to developing a habits if one views a habit, not as blind repetition of a series of actions but a skill that can be adjusted to fit different circumstances.
  • The Hitachi Report examines the participation of engineers in ethical decision making in different organizations and shows how these different contexts require different skills sets of moral expertise. Engineers in finance-driven companies do not participate directly in decision making. They oppose unethical decisions by authorized decision-makers by exercising organizational politics and moral courage. (See Loui on how watching Incident at Morales produces short term improvement in moral courage.) Ethical Advocacy, on the other hand, is expected of engineers who work in customer-driven companies. Moral considerations are not a central part of decision making in these companies but engineers are expected to advocate for ethical promote it--even fight for it--in the context of small group, interdisciplinary and participatory decision making. Well coached debate competitions provide an opportunity to practice ethical advocacy. Skilled judges are need to provide timely feedback.
  • Critical thinking is an important skill required in ethics. Moral problem solvers need to be adept at questioning assumptions and thinking outside of the box. Case analysis and debating are good ways of approaching this skill in the classroom.
  • Finally, as philosophers Strawson and Whitbeck argue, practical and professional ethics classes need to work with students on the complex of skills usually designated as problem solving. A weakness of traditional applied ethics classes is their assumption that all students need are theoretical heuristics and tools to help them select from among available alternatives. A skill based approach, on the other hand, highlights the need of generating solutions that embody or embed moral value.


  • In Cullen's presentation, he describes Being as "values, attitudes, and beliefs that lie at the heart of the practice of management."
  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Values

Hastings Center Ethics Skills

  • Thirty years ago, the Hastings Center published an anthology of articles on how to teach ethics in higher education. Daniel Callahan, in his contribution, discusses the objectives that the Center felt should form an essential part of any college course in ethics. Below is the list slightly reworded by Michael Pritchard in Reasonable Children. In this same book, Pritchard argues that ethics provides an excellent opportunity to teach reasonableness (logical discourse based on sound evidence) and critical thinking. His recorded conversations with children in southern Michigan provide examples of conceptual play and prototyping of moral concepts by children that challenges Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development in children.
  • 1. Stimulate the moral imagination of students.
  • 2. Help students recognize moral issues.
  • 3. Help students analyze key moral concepts and principles.
  • 4. Elicit from students a sense of responsibility.
  • 5. Help students accept the likelihood of ambiguity and disagreement on moral matters, while at the same time attempting to strive for clarity and agreement insofar as it is reasonably attainable.
  • See below for the complete reference in Pritchard

At UPRM, we do a good job of teaching analysis in standalone courses in ethics. Carlos Rios, a professor in biology, also uses layered cases to help introduce students to moral ambiguity and conflict. He starts out with a short scenario that introduces an ethical issue in a straightforward way. Then he layers in different circumstances to introduce conflicts above and beyond the core scenario. Students transition, step-by-step, from the black and white world to the Grey World. What about the rest of the Hastings Center Objectives? While not targeted in ethics courses and "micro insertions" they may be attached to skills taught in other courses. Business administration courses impress upon students the need to "see a business idea through" (responsibility). Students give two minute "elevator speeches" to introduce new business ideas to a panel of judges (imagination). Students are taught to use different financial tools to assess the risk of a given stock or business venture (responsibility and analysis). The Hastings Center Objectives provide an excellent field to examine for skills that can be transferred to and from practical and professional ethics.

III. Tackling Teamwork

Carnegie Report Skills

  • Analytical Thinking: Formal knowledge that is general in nature and context independent. Deductive reasoning from principle to particular represents a paradigm instance of this objective.
  • Multiple Framing: The ability to "work intellectually with fundamentally different, sometimes incompatible, analytical perspectives" For example, in a recent Ethics Bowl, biology and engineering students were challenged to view a case, each through the framework of the other.
  • Reflective Exploration of Meaning: Exploration of meaning, value, and commitment that, in the past, was conveyed by the Liberal Arts. Students in ADMI 4016 design and perform "What if" dramas where they imagine and act out scenarios that participants in a real case might have chosen but in reality did not. In this way, they imagine alternative courses of action whose implications they test out in a laboratory of moral imagination.
  • Practical Reasoning: The "capacity to draw on knowledge and intellectual skills to engate concretely with the world." This is best portrayed by Carolyn Whitbeck in her discussion of the analogy between design in engineering and problem-solving in ethics. She quotes from Strawson who argues for teaching the synthetic skills needed to design solutions to problems.
  • These skills are certainly required in a solid course of business ethics. But they are also taught in other areas of the business administration curriculum.
  • One approach is to use the challenges of group work as an occasion to teach these skills.
  • In the Ethics of Teamwork module, students over the course of a semester, first, prepare a preliminary proposal outlining their value goals for the semester and then identifying strategies they will adopt for avoiding group pitfalls like groupthink. For example, they might divide a work assignment into equal individual tasks and them distribute these to group members. This procedure would realize distributive justice in the form of equal distribution of work and benefits. Second, they might assign a devil's advocate to each task whose role would be to criticize the group consensus and question group assumptions; this would prevent groupthink. Groups also prepare a table outlining the different components of the socio-technical system in which they will work and the values embodied in this system. Etc.
  • Next, groups meet with the professor for a mid-semester audit. They discuss their procedures for carrying out group assignments and assess the success of these in terms of their value goals. Did they encounter any challenges? How did they repsond? Did they succeed. Groups survey their procedures, check them off against early semester expectations, and outline plans to continue for the second half.
  • Finally, groups close out the semester with a final self-evaluation. After restating their goals, they outline their procedures, their challenges, and what they have learned.
  • This activity teaches what one ethicist calls "responsive adjustment." Students are evaluated (and evaluate themselves) in terms of their ability to learn from the past by avoiding repeating past actions that led to bad results and incorporating past actions that led to good results. By trying out practices and responsively adjust, students make progress toward the development of (ethical) best practices in group collaboration.
  • By teaching skills of group work, you are, at the same time, teaching skills crucial to a successful moral career. Recognizing what you are already doing (and the contribution you are already making) is simple, fundamental, but absolutely crucial.

Related Skills for Group Work

  • The Carnegie Report outlines specific skills for group work that are taught at schools like Wharton and Babson (91-91)
  • Creating shared goals and strategies
  • Allocating tasks efficiently and fairly
  • Persuading their teammates to adopt particular goals or approaches
  • Engaging differing perspectives with civility and respect
  • Negotiating compromise solutions to disagreements
  • Managing conflict and other difficult group dynamics
  • Motivating others to do their part

Further Ideas and Objectives on Group Work from Marcel Castro of UPRM and Cass Sunstein

  • Learning to work in diverse communities
  • Participatory Team Decision-Making
  • Group Generation of a diversity of topics.
  • More group pitfalls: group identification, self-serving biases, self-esteem enhancement, self-fulfilling prophecies
  • Some more pitfalls from Cass Sunstein in Infotopia: Echo Chambers (where groups only hear their views and do not receive critical information from outsiders); Information Cascades (which create belief without checking truth); "hidden agendas" are created when individuals are discouraged from participating and groups fail to assemble the wisdom and knowledge dispersed among their members. In this work, Sunstein also examines whether online tools exaggerate or reduce group failures.

IV. On Track in Social Entrepreneurship

Most of this module's information on Social Entrepreneurship comes from Patricia Werhane et al. Alieviating Poverty. Other good and different work exists. (For a broader range of options and some criticisms see X's presentation at the 2012 meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.

Three Skills from Werhane

  • Moral Imagination: "ability ot discover, evaluate and act upon possibilities, not merely determined by a particular circumstance, or limited by a set of operating mental models, or merely framed by a set of rules or role-governed concerns" (75)
  • "Systems thinking is the habit of mind that considers any social entity as a complex interaction of individual and institutional actors each with conflicting interests and goals and with a number of feedback loops” (Werhane referring to Wolf 1999)
  • Deep Dialogue: (1) grasp the interlocutor's mind set or way of framing a situation; (2) initiate a joint inquiry into a common problem as equals; (3) develop a collective identity based on accepting the other's perspective.

Skills for teaching social entrepreneurship from Carnegie Report (150-1)

  • Experiential Learning
  • Concrete Experience: "involve fully and openly in new experiences"
  • Reflective Observaton: "reflect on and observe their experiences from many perspectives"
  • Abstract Conceptualization: "create concepts that integrate their observations into logically sound theories"
  • Active Experimentation: "use these theories to makedecisions and solve problems
  • Materials on experiential learning come from Kolb and ultimately from John Dewey (denotative method)

V. Problem Solving: Ill-Defined Situations; Wicked Problems; Analogy between Design and Ethics

Problem-Solving and Software Development

  • Problem in software development breaks down into four stages:
  • Problem Specification. The problem is not given or does not come fully structured. Problem-solvers need to begin by structuring or defining the problem. One way is to classify the problem. Is it a conflict? What kind of values, interests, goods, or beliefs are in conflict? Is it a disagreement? Does the disagreement rest on facts, concepts or application? The difficulty at this stage is that there is often no uniquely correct way to define a problem. For John Dewey, good problem specification brings the situation a long way toward successful resolution. But the bad news is that it may be necessary to reformulate or respecify problems that prove intransigent. Can't solve the problem? Try dissolving it. One final thing on problem specification: do you approach problems as swamps to be navigated or as wasteland to be converted into gardens. Here is Weston on the advantage of the former: “Swamps are enormously complex and creative ecosystems—think of the Everglades—and they are places that we can make our way around quite well if we are sufficiently careful, respectful of their powers, and appropriately equipped. Suppose that ethically we are indeed in a sort of swamp: is that so terrible a fate?”
  • Solution generation. This stage is neglected when one takes what Carolyn Whitbeck terms the "multiple choice approach" to problems. On this mistaken approach, one assumes that the problem is well-defined. It also assumes that the situation offers alternatives which the problem solver finds ready-made. This greatly simplifies problem solving: one takes a favorite algorithm, ranks the given solutions, and choosees the best. Implementation may prove difficult but this goes beyond solving the problem to summoning up the moral courage to realize it. This multiple-choice model fails because it places the problem solver in a passive stance toward the situation; one doesn't create solutions, one merely finds them; one doesn't specify the problem , one merely accepts the problem as given in the situation. The most important objective in solution generation is to brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Good problem solvers set quotas, set aside criticism, generate options, and then work on refining them through synthesis, ranking, and serialization.
  • Solution Testing. One generates, then refines solutions. After this, one tests the solutions in various way. To simplify, this falls into two kinds of tests, those that challenge the ethics of the solutions and those that examine whether the solution is practical. Many different ethics tests have been set forth. Three useful ones are reversibility, harm, and publicity. These are good to start with because they roughly encapsulate more complex ethical theories: reversibility encapsulates deontology, harm utilitarianism, and publicity virtue ethics. To view an article that uses these three ethics tests to discuss an ethical problem, check out the "Commentary on Kelly's Cosmetic Surgery" found above.
  • Solution Implementation. Here, the solution is challenged on the issue of whether it can be realized in the real world. Is it feasible, will it work? One approach is to develop a check list of possible obstacles that could arise in the implementation phase. Are there enough resources (people, time, materials, money) to realize the solution? Are these constraints negotiable? Can they be pushed back? Are there interests that threaten the realization of the solution? Are there special interest groups that might oppose it? Does it violate a supervisor's agenda or threaten to weaken his or her institutional authority? Finally, is the solution feasible in a technical sense? Implementation makes use of structured imagination to envision situations that might oppose the realization of one's solution and then to devise creative work arounds to stay on track.
  • Having trouble implementing your solution? Try what Weston terms the "Intermediate Impossible." Weston continues: "If you have a problem, start by imagining what would be the perfect solution. Quite probably the perfect solution would be too costly, or physically impossible. But don't stop there--don't just give up and go back to where you started. Work backward slowly from what's perfect-but-impossible toward "intermediate" solutions that are possible, until you fina a possibility that is realistic." Weston 38-39

Different Ways to Teach Problem-Solving

  • Teamwork or cooperative learning
  • Supervised practice with expert feedback. (This is crucial for teaching any objective based on skill. Learning here requires practice with constant and expert feedback. Developing expertise requires thousands of hours of practice, a sound argument for an across-the-curriculum approach where the same skill (or a simplar skill) is practiced in different curricular areas; working on teams is important for ethics problem-solving but is also an important component of other areas of business education. Techniques for being an ethical team member (doing one's fair share) also promote other objectives (getting the product out on time).
  • Case Studies. In structural mechanics, it is important to present different mathematical models for hanging materials from support beams. Some are easier to construct than others and some stronger than others. An engineer presents students with two models and then sets up a situation where students need to compare the two and make a choice. The choice is then put in the context of the Hyatt Regency walkway design; if students fail to carefully work out the implications of each model, they wind up choosing the design that eventually collapsed. The case study is built layer by layer, the first layers being abstract models in structural mechanics, the second layer complications introduced by incorporating the model into a building design, and the last layer built around the importance of designing for safety. There is absolutely no reason why case studies cannot be used to teach both technical matters (structural mechanics) and ethics (safety) at the same time.
  • Heuristics such as decision- making steps and ethics tests.
  • Simulations. Instructors use simulations to teach students how to proceed in ill structured situations.
  • Teaching Written and Oral Communication

Ethical Problem Solving as Design

This section explores Carolyn Whitbeck's provocative discussion of the analogy between ethics and design problems. She offers powerful reasons for approaching ethical problems as design problems, that is, as challenges to create solutions that realize ethical value as specifications and then implementing these solutions creatively in highly constrained contexts. What is important here is that ethical value is realized directly in the form of the solution rather than treated as a constraint governing the implementation of otherwise technical solutions. (ABET still promotes the view that ethics is a constraint along with economic, social, global, and environmental "components." This view is better than neglecting ethics; but it still denies ethics the central role it deserves in problem solving. Whitbeck's analysis is fully presented in Ethics in Engineering Practice and Research. But an earlier version can be found at Online Ethics through the link provided above.

Synthetic Skills

  • In a textbox, Whitbeck refers to Strawson's exhortation to include the synthetic skills of the participant as well as the analytical skills of the judge in moral pedagogy. Synthetic skills are specially relevant for generating solutions to problems. Taking the participant's perspective is important; one enters into the situation as an agent forced to act rather than as a judge who has the luxury of standing back and evaluating actions performed by others. See EEPR, 53.
  • Quoting from Whitbeck: "the skills of a judge are only part of the skills an agent needs to respond to an ethical problem. The rest of the task is a constructive or synthetic one of devising and refining candidate responses." Don't passively wait to find your solution; enter actively into the situation and create it and refine it as you encounter more situation-specific content.

Wicked Problems

  • Although Whitbeck doesn't use this term, ethical problems can often be characterized as "wicked problems." (The term comes from Rittle and Webber. See below.
  • Byron Norton in his book Sustainability provides a convenient summary and refinement of what characterizes a wicked problem. Norton is, of course, discussing problems in environmental ethics. His experience of twenty years of work with the US Environmental Protection Agency has led him to the conclusion that environmental problems are also "wicked." What follows are four characteristics of wicked problems that Norton chooses to emphasize.
  • 1. In wicked problems, there are "problems of problem formulation." This follows from their interdisciplinary nature and may not necessarily be a bad thing. Wicked environmental problems may be wicked because they cannot be exhaustively formulated from within the lens of a single discipline. But this resonates with the Carnegie Report's call for multiple-framing and is an essential part of the exercise of moral imagination. Rule of thumb: before defining or specifying an ethical or environmental problem, view it from several disciplinary frames such as the economical, political, scientific/biological, and, of course, ethical.
  • Solutions to wicked problems are often non-compatible. "No optimizations solutions" can be devised. Solutions "based on algorithms or computation of a simple measure" are not readily available. This is one way of saying that wicked problems involve variables or components that are not homogeneous, place-able on a single scale, and, therefore, are not quantifiable.
  • Wicked problems are non-repeatable. "They are unique in their complexity and there can be no learning curve. Pragmatism, as Norton well knows, treats this as an advantage instead of a disadvantage. All problems, all actions, take place in a concrete situation. The past can provide guidelines or analogies for encountering new situations but never does it provide a formula that can is indefinitely repeatable.
  • Wicked problems present an open-ended temporal frame. (Philosophers of technology express this through the "technological treadmill; the solution of one problem gives rise to many new problems and the solutions to these gives rise to more new problems until one is running fast just to keep up.) Norton goes on to say that problems are continually reformulated and solutions have unforeseeable consequences in the long term.

The Analogy

  1. Rarely does one find a uniquely correct solution or response to an ethics problem. (This is where Whitbeck rejects the multiple choice approach described above.)
  2. Some possible responses are clearly unacceptable. (Solutions generated can be sorted into good and bad)
  3. Two good solutions may have different advantages. (They may be good in different ways.) We see this clearly in design. One car seat may be good because it is easily carried, another because it can be adjusted as the child grows bigger. But many ethicists balk at the claim that this holds for ethical solutions. Yet if ethical solutions realize value, different solutions can realize different moral values; they can be good in different ways. And some situation require that we trade moral values off against one another, not because they conflict in themselves but because they come to compete in this situation. Whitbeck's claim here that there is no uniquely correct solution to a design/ethical problem is not ethical relativism but a recognition that situations often call for the realize of many values and that ethical solutions must be formulated and implemented within highly constrained situations. Several engineering designs may be good and none uniquely good but this does not mean that different designs cannot be sorted into good and bad.
  4. Whitbeck then goes on to identify what could be termed as meta-ethical criteria for a good, designed, ethical solution: achieves desired performance or end; conforms to specifications; is secure against accidents; is consistent with existing background constraints.

Four Lessons Learned from Analogy

  1. Begin problem solving "by considering unknowns and uncertainties in the situation."
  2. Developing "solutions is separate from definition of the problem and may require more information."
  3. Begin solving your problem by "pursuing several possible solutions simultaneously." (This reflects the fact that ethical problem solving occurs often in highly constrained solutions and what starts off as a promising course of action may prove fruitless while less promising alternatives may improve as the situation itself changes.)
  4. The "problem situation and one's understanding of it change over time." (So problem solving is non-linear process wherre one continually loops back from later to earlier stages. For example, generating solutions may lead one to loop back and change the problem definition. The situation itself may change as the problem solving process unfolds requiring continual reexamination and update.)

The Problem Solving Context

  • Frequently, these contexts are highly constrained situation where several specifications (often competing in the situation) must be realized at the same time. These specifications also interact with situation constraints such as limited time, monetary resources, person power, technological options, etc. Conflicting value specifications and limiting background constraints make problem solving a challenge.
  • In ethical problems, there is a need to satisfy conflicting considerations (moral and non-moral values) simultaneously. This requires an integrative approach.
  • Strawson's point comes home to roost here: it is necessary for students to learn to take the participatory standpoint and develop synthetic skills of "devising and refining candidate responses" to often ill structured situations.
  • Whitbeck emphasizes that one must always "interrogate the problem." This is because viewing the problem under different frames can unlock solutions and because problems frequently change as the situation evolves. Along with interrogating the problem, one must state the problem in full recognition of its "open-endedness."

Case Studies or Best Practices


  1. Baillie, C; Feinblatt, E; Thamae, T; and Berrington, E. (2010). Needs and Feasibility: A Guide for Engineers in Community Projects—The Case of Waste for Life. Morgan and Claypool.
  2. Callahan, D. (1980). “Goals in the Teaching of Ethics.” In Ethics Teaching in Higher Education, edited by Daniel Callahan and Sissela Bok. New York: Plenum Press.
  3. Colby, A; Ehrlich, T; Sullivan, W; Dolle, J. (2011) Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession. Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint. (The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.)
  4. Datar, S; Garvin, D; Cullen, P. (2010). Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads. Harvard Business Press.
  5. Khurana, R. (2007). From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfilled Promise of Management as a Profession. Princeton University Press.
  6. Lucena, J., J. Schneider, and J.A. Leydens. Engineering and Sustainable Community Development, Morgan and Claypool, 2010.
  7. Mitcham, C; and Muñoz, D. (2010). Humanitarian Engineering. Morgan and Claypool. 2010
  8. Pritchard, M. (1996). Reasonable Children: Moral Education and Moral Learning. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press.
  9. Werhane, P; Kelley, S; Hartman, L; Moberg, D. (2010). Alleviating Poverty through Profitable Partnerships: Globalization, Markets and Economic Well-Being. Routledge.
  10. Callahan, Daniel. (1980). “Goals for the Teaching of Ethics.” In Callahan, D and Bok, S (Eds.) Ethics Teaching in Higher Education. New York: Plenum Press, 1980: 61-94.
  11. Whitbeck, Caroline (1998) Ethics in Engineering Practice and Research, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  12. Norton, Byran. (2005). Sustainability: A Philosophy of Adaptive Ecosystem Management. University of Chicago Press.
  13. Rittel, H. and Webber, M. (1973). “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.” Policy Sciences 4: 155-169.
  14. Sunstein, C. (2008). Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge. Oxford University Press.
  15. Weston, A. (2002). A Practical Companion to Ethics, 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press.

Useful Resources

Table of Basic Moral Concepts

Media File: BMC_V3.docx

Intermediate Moral Concepts for Business Ethics Cases

Media File: RE_IMC_V1.docx

Module Table: Skill Sets from RUBE and RMBA

Media File: RUBE and RMBA.docx

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