Case Histories in Business Ethics

Case Histories in Business Ethics

Case Histories in Business Ethics

Case Histories in Business Ethics


Typically, case histories are used to illustrate assertions or arguments or to stimulate debate about an issue within business ethics. This volume examines that role, illustrating the link between case histories and more general theoretical approaches to business ethics.


Chris Megone and Simon Robinson

In the last thirty years there has been a dramatic increase in the study both of applied ethics quite generally, and of business ethics in particular. Business ethics is certainly a branch of philosophy even if, as an inter-disciplinary subject, it may also be seen as a branch of other disciplines such as business studies or management. Thus this increase has brought a different sort of student to the study of ethics, often students who are studying ethics as a small part of a business or management course, although there have also been some students, usually by far the minority, who take business ethics courses as part of a philosophy degree. One result of this growth in students of ethics from a different academic background has been the introduction of different tools for the study of the subject. As opposed to simply reading book-length studies of ethics, or learned articles, students have often been presented with case histories (accounts of real cases) or case studies (which may be wholly or partly imaginary stories) as a substantial component of their courses in business ethics. (Hereafter, case histories alone will be referred to, for brevity.)

One main reason for this has been that students on a management or business course have not always found it obvious that ethics should be a required component in their studies. In response to this worry, it has been thought that case histories can at least demonstrate the way in which ethical concerns are so often integral to business decisions. At the same time, the case history has also had a prominent role in other aspects of business education, so it may have seemed natural to extend its use into this new area. However, not a great deal of further thought has been given to exactly how case histories are to play a role in business ethics curricula.

In particular two issues arise. First of all, many business students, once satisfied that ethics has a role in business, are likely to see a course in ethics as something that should help their practice, help them to reach better decisions and conduct themselves better in the business context. So one question is how, if at all, the use of case histories can contribute to the achievement of that goal. Second, it is not entirely clear how the study of ethics through case histories is supposed to be connected to the study

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