Business Ethics and Bioethics

19 July 2006 at 8:00 am 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

Just as business schools are increasingly emphasizing business ethics and corporate social responsibility (not everyone thinks this is wise), the biological and medical sciences are increasingly emphasizing bioethics. Yet bioethics courses at US universities are usually offered by the philosophy or religious studies departments, or by professional philosophers or theologians in university-wide centers, not by regular faculty in the biology or pharmacology departments. Why? I can think of at least three explanations:

1. Business schools are more serious about ethics than are biology or pharmacology departments, and hence more willing to devote resources to hiring ethicists and creating ethics programs.

2. Business schools are trendy and shallow, using management professors to teach “ethics lite” or “pop ethics” courses rather than outsourcing this material to the academic units where it belongs.

3. Bioethics problems are subtle and complex (Is an embryo a person?). Business-ethics problems are mundane and straightforward (Should you lie to your shareholders?). Philosophers are needed for the former, but not for the latter.

What do readers think?

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Management Theory, Teaching.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jung-Chin Shen  |  19 July 2006 at 5:54 pm

    Three more possibilities are logically possible:
    First, philosophy professors are usually less familiar with related issues such as corporate governance than b-school professors. It could be due to their lack of relevant knowledge or practical experiences which are essential to business ethics courses.
    Second, biology or pharmacology professors tend to consider business ethics as a branch of social sciences which they do not have legitimacy or incentive to teach it (e.g., only those who are not doing the frontier scientific research will turn to tstudy and each the “loose” ethics courses).
    Third, business ethics courses are in the early stage of business education. As time goes by, the courses will ultimately be taken over by the more knowledgeable philosophy professors.

  • 2. C. Grammich  |  20 July 2006 at 11:19 am

    Peter, (1) rather precludes (2) and (3) in your original list, doesn’t it? Or am I missing something?

    Jung-Chin’s suggested possibilities all seem logical.

    What do law schools do? Is it comparable to ethics education in business schools? Are there any other professional schools whose ethics education is comparable to that in business schools?

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  20 July 2006 at 11:32 am

    Yes, I should have written in (1) “more willing to devote resources to hiring faculty who are willing to teach ethics classes,” i.e. managment professors who are interested in ethics but are not trained in philosophy.

  • 4. C. Grammich  |  20 July 2006 at 9:23 pm

    FWIW, I just checked the course offerings of the Business, Divinity, Law, and Medical schools at the University of Chicago. All have their own faculty teach the ethics courses (which appear to be required for Law and Medical but not for Business and Divinity students–but I may be misreading the requirements).

    I recall Chicago’s former president, Hanna Holborn Gray, who at commencements had a set speech for each group (e.g., welcoming newly-minted BAs “into the company of educated men and women” and newly minted PhDs “into the community of scholars”), sometimes in an arch tone of which few (or at least not I) had suspected her. Except for the asterisked and capitalized words below, which she drew out and emphasized, I can’t remember the exact words she used for new MBAs, but it was something like “and it is my *HOPE* that you will use the skills you have acquired to ensure the enjoyment of the goods of commerce by *ALL*.” That always elicited more than a few sardonic chuckles . . .

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