They are all lies. Even Mother Theresa did it for herself ...

Johan Hattingh, Minka Woermann


In this paper we explore the question of what are we trying to achieve in teaching business ethics at undergraduate university level. The dominant normative model of business ethics suggests that the aim of business ethics (including the teaching of business ethics) is to move businesspeople from an egotistic position to an altruistic position. According to the latter position, the greater good of society is served by unselfish, other-regarding action, instead of by the narrow, self-centred interests of individuals or corporations acting on their own behalf (i.e. egoism). In this paper, the dominant model is analysed and criticised by means of subjecting it to the question of whether it is at all possible to move people from one position to another through teaching business ethics. A second, related aim of this analysis and critique deals with the question of whether ethics (as taking up moral responsibility for one’s actions) really entails a neat, linear model of change from position A to B. To arrive at a possible alternative model of teaching and “doing” business ethics, we explore some classic philosophical positions in which mixed signals are given regarding the status of egoism in ethics. This analysis will be applied to, and supported by, experience gained from teaching business ethics to accounting and management students at undergraduate level at the University of Stellenbosch. 


Teaching business ethics; egoism; altruism; neoclassical economic theory; globalisation; complexity theory; complex ethics

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