Unique ethical issues

Case Study:

You will be selecting the topic for your final paper, and submitting that, along with the ethical issues you intend to research and the dilemma those issues lead to. Please think long and hard about what you'd like to research for your final paper - this is a research paper, and I will be looking for considerably more in the final paper than just your take on the article or articles listed under "Unique Ethical Issues" in, from which you may draw in selecting your topic.

By the way, if you have another topic near and dear to your heart which you would like to propose as a topic for your final paper - please email me for permission to consider that topic before you submit your Phase I submission.

The final paper is a more theoretical approach - not a case study - so you will be considering the ethical issues in a larger context. As an example, you would be considering the ethical approach to marketing items generally consumed by children, and perhaps considering who it is we may market to (and how), rather than analyzing the McDonald's Happy Meal case. In other words, please do not try to select the McDonald's Happy Meal case for your final topic!

Make sure you've gone through Instructor Notes, which talks about what you should be thinking about for this week's Phase I submission. That submission should identify the topic, the ethical issues that topic potential presents, the dilemma those issues could lead to, and which two ethical theories you intend to rely upon in suggesting the best resolution of the dilemma. The more clarity you are able to bring to this stage of your final paper, the clearer the ethical foundation will be for your work moving forward, and the more helpful my feedback will be able to be.

It is interesting to consider how individual action can be combined in the corporate form to produce an action or impact that greatly exceeds the impact possible from ordinary action - even joint human action. The corporate form - intended to limit individual liability to the amount of their initial financial investment - also has the ability to construct a type of 'Chinese Wall' defense against ethical wrongdoing that arises out of the combined impact of individual action. In other words, if my [otherwise ethical] action is combined with the [otherwise ethical] action of another person also acting on behalf of the corporation, and the joint impact of the two otherwise ethical actions turns out to be unethical, who is at fault?

It is tempting to blame the guy at the top in a "the buck stops here" rationale. This is especially so, in light of some of the very high salary schemes paid top corporate officers. But does that do any good in preventing unethical corporate action, or in encouraging ethical courage on the part of individual corporate employees? Here, we would do well also to consider the purposes of punishment: retribution, restitution, protection of society, but also rehabilitation of the wrong-doer.

As you consider corporate consequences and corporate responsibility, keep in mind that corporations "act" through individuals, and make sure you distinguish between individual acts - and its ethical analysis - and corporate acts, and the complexity that can arise in conducting ethical analyses on behalf of the corporation. You might wish to revisit the Peter French article from Week 1, "The Corporation as a Moral Person"

Please make sure that you stop and think before you speak of a corporation being "responsible" for unethical action. Although they are a legal "person"  they are not a physical one. They can neither act nor respond in their own person. You must consider what it means before you say that a corporation should be morally responsible, and if that is even possible. I will call you on this every time, if you merely state that a corporation should be morally or ethically responsible, but do not also include an analysis of how this is possible. Moral agency appears to be reserved for individual, thinking, human beings, who are capable of rational decision-making.

The Learning Activities will give you an opportunity to consider both the question of who ought to bear the responsibility for the consequences of corporate action that is deemed unethical - and why - as well as taking this a step further, with a focus on the question of just what "good" things a corporation ought to be focused on, and why. You will be writing more about this, in Assignment #2 - the persuasive paper.

As you approach Phase 1 of your Final Project - which you will be working on this week - please make sure that you limit your "Unique Ethical Issue" to an issue that will enable you to deal with the matter in the confines of your final paper. Identifying your topic and ethical issue as narrowly as possible is the key to success here. "Marketing Ethics," for example, could comprise any number of ethical issues and lead to several books on the topic! Narrow it down to, perhaps business bluffing, negotiation overstatements, PR grandstanding, the problems of focusing on a vulnerable market population, etc.

Please do take the time to work through identifying just what the ethical issue is, as well as how it can be presented in a dilemma format. This will be an opportunity to get a ‘pre-read' from me on how you intend to approach your Final Project - which is worth 30% of your final grade! I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity.

What is a dilemma? A dilemma is not just deciding what to do - or even deciding what is right and what is wrong. A dilemma generally arises when there appears to be no ‘right' possible choice - or when there is a choice between two, mutually exclusive, ‘right' choices. Thus, dilemmas often arise when the choice is been two ‘wrongs' or between two ‘rights'.
What do I mean? If we have two people who need a liver transplant, but only one liver - a liver which is a good match for either - who gets it? That is a choice between two ‘right' options, giving the liver to patient A or giving the liver to patient Z.
A choice between two ‘wrongs' would be if a terrorist commanded you, the doctor, to determine who was the best match for a liver transplant needed by the terrorist's buddy, who was in your hospital, threatening to kill not only you, but your entire surgical team - and to keep killing until someone produced a liver that would be a good match for the buddy. What do you do? There seems to be no "good" option.

A simple right/wrong decision does not represent a true ethical dilemma. Thus, it is not a dilemma to determine whether or not to murder someone. It becomes a dilemma only when a terrorist holds a gun to your head and tells you to murder someone. See what I mean? Similarly, the decision whether or not to steal from ones employer is not a dilemma. It becomes a dilemma only when another value conflicts with it - the Les Miserables type of dilemma, for example, where the theft appears necessary to prevent immediate starvation.
The topic for your Final Project should include an ethical issue which gives rise to an ethical dilemma of this sort, or which presents a good/bad determination which is not obvious. A Final Project that tries to analyze a "dilemma" of whether or not lying is permissible in business dealings - absent more - will not have presented the type of ethical dilemma that will enable you to do the kind of ethical analysis that will score well.

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Business Management: Unique ethical issues
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