Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Socrates Arrives

Socrates and the CEO meet. Socrates proposes a wager around statements the CEO just made about the purpose of business and the company’s ethics. The executive said, “Business is about making money. We didn’t break any laws! We didn’t lie, cheat, or steal! We didn’t do anything wrong!” Socrates claims he can get the CEO to recognize that the executive doesn’t really believe this. The terms of the bet are established.

Chapter 2: What Is The ‘Job’ of Business?

Discussion of the purpose of business. Is it just to make money or something more? Socrates argues that the primary role of business is to provide people in a community with a decent way of life.

Chapter 3: What Is The ‘Job’ of Business? (continued)

Additional discussion about the role of profits. The importance of individual freedom. Relevance of John Rawls’ concept of the ‘veil of ignorance’ to respecting individual freedom. Socrates applies Rawls’ ‘veil of ignorance’ to the distribution of wealth, the ‘job’ of business, and reasonable limits on individual freedom. The first part of the wager ends in a draw.

Chapter 4: Has The CEO Done Anything ‘Wrong’?

Socrates and the CEO move to the second part of the wager. Has the executive done anything wrong? Socrates suggests that two basic ethical principles (‘do no harm’ and ‘treat others appropriately’) constitute a kind of ‘ethical yardstick.’ He considers the second principle in relation to whether or not the CEO has broken any promises to shareholders and employees.

Chapter 5: Has The CEO Done Anything ‘Wrong’? (continued)

The CEO and promise keeping continued. Application of ‘treat others appropriately’ to questions about the CEO’s compensation, fairness, and ‘conflict of interest.’

Chapter 6: Has The CEO Done Anything ‘Wrong’? (continued)

Application of ‘treat others appropriately’ to the treatment of women at the CEO’s bank. Does serving as both CEO and Chair of the Board constitute a conflict of interest? Application of ‘do no harm’ to the economic meltdown. CEO concedes second part of wager.

Chapter 7: Ethics on The Job

Socrates offers the CEO a chance to win back the money. What should the place of ethics be in corporate decisions? Ethics as a technical skill. How to integrate ethics into day-to-day operations.

Chapter 8: Socrates Returns—The Second Conversation

Socrates reappears after the CEO makes a major gaff at a Congressional hearing. He proposes the following topics for another set of conversations: the bank’s shared responsibility for harm from actions of their client companies; CEO’s public statements about climate change and the economy.

Chapter 9: “Ethics Is Rubbish!”

Socrates reveals that the CEO is a candidate for a new position as head of a major international corporation and he’s been asked for his opinion. The point of their second encounter is to determine whether Socrates will make the recommendation. He begins by playing devil’s advocate. He challenges the CEO to refute the claim that “ethics is rubbish.” Socrates endorses the emotive theory of ethics and points to the weakness of cultural norms, laws, or religion as a meaningful foundation of ethics.

Chapter 10: “Ethics Is Rubbish!” (continued)

Socrates attacks ethics as something the weak have made up to protect themselves against the strong. He is essentially repeating Callicles’ argument from Plato’s Gorgias. Examination of the Socratic idea that ‘vice harms the doer.’

Chapter 11: Is There an Objective Foundation to Ethics?

Details of the ‘kind of life’ humans aspire to. A discussion of the basic tangible and intangible needs humans have.

Chapter 12: Is There an Objective Foundation to Ethics? (continued)

What is the relationship between ‘basic human needs’ and ethics? Why ethics in general isn’t “rubbish.” Brief explanation of why business ethics isn’t “rubbish.”

Chapter 13: Business, Ethics, Apple/Proview, and John Stuart Mill

A defense of business ethics based on the relationship between ethics, the ‘job’ of business and the aim for ‘optimum profit’ versus ‘maximum profit.’ Examination of the case of Apple and Proview. Summary of a teleological approach to ethics: John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism. Application of Mill’s approach to the Apple/Proview case.

Chapter 14: Business, Ethics, Apple/Proview, and Immanuel Kant

Examination of the limitations of a utilitarian approach to business ethics. Summary of a deontological approach to ethics: Immanuel Kant and the categorical imperative. Application of Kant’s discussion of the “false promise” and “treating others as ends and never simply as means” to Apple/Proview case.

Chapter 15: Business, Ethics, Apple/Proview, and Immanuel Kant (continued)

Discussion of Kant’s attempt to base ethics on reason alone. Seeing a “false promise” as a contradiction. What Kant means when he talks about “universalizing the maxim of an action.” Application of this version of the categorical imperative to the Apple/Proview case.

Chapter 16: Corporate Responsibility—The Gun Company

Socrates’ understanding of moral responsibility. Does the bank of a gun company have any responsibility for deaths caused by the company’s products? Were the actions of the CEO, who helped the gun company lobby against gun control, ethically appropriate?

Chapter 17: Corporate Responsibility—The Gun Company (continued)

Continued discussion about whether or not the CEO bears any responsibility for any harm from the gun company’s products. Socrates’ criteria for responsibility. Using a truth table to test the validity of the CEO’s argument. Application to the gun company case of Kant’s ‘maxim/universal law of nature’ approach and Mill’s idea about the qualitative differences in pleasures and pains.

Chapter 18: Corporate Responsibility and ‘Return on Infrastructure’—Caterpillar

Brief discussion of the debate about Goldman Sachs’ corporate culture. Does the CEO’s bank bear any responsibility for actions by another one of its clients—Caterpillar? Return on infrastructure.

Chapter 19: Corporate Responsibility and ‘Return on Infrastructure’—Caterpillar (continued)

Continued discussion of the Caterpillar case.

Chapter 20: Business, Ethics, and The Rights of Future Generations—Climate Change

Two students, Natalie and Sergio, join the conversation to underscore the issue of the rights of future generations. At issue is the CEO’s bank’s support of ExxonMobil plus the executive’s public denial of global climate change. Sergio reviews the scientific evidence for global warming. Did ExxonMobil violate either of two basic moral principles: do no harm or treat others appropriately?

Chapter 21: Business, Ethics, and The Rights of Future Generations—Climate Change (continued)

Continued discussion of climate change, ExxonMobil and the CEO’s public statements. Description of the military consequences of climate change. Socrates challenges the CEO to produce a full analysis of the ethical character of the actions of ExxonMobil and the executive. The CEO applies both teleological and deontological approaches.

Chapter 22: Business, Ethics, and The Rights of Future Generations—The Economy

Focus shifts to Socrates’ concern about the CEO’s public statements about the economy. What is the ‘job’ of the economy? Does a ‘rising tide’ actually ‘float all boats’? Natalie presents evidence for a mixed picture. Since World War II, the U.S. economy has generally done very well. However, the benefits have not been evenly distributed.

Chapter 23: Business, Ethics, and The Rights of Future Generations—The Economy (continued)

Does the U.S. economy do its ‘job’ as well as most people think? Socrates presents evidence about poverty rates, quality of life, tax rates, tax revenue from corporations, government spending on infrastructure. Citing Milton Friedman, Socrates asks whether the current concentration of wealth in the United States constitutes a threat to freedom? Discussion of the positives and negatives of global capitalism.

Chapter 24: Business, Ethics, and Ideology

Examination of the role of intellectual frameworks and unstated assumptions in shaping our observations—and the “facts” that result. Sergio describes an example from marine mammal science. Socrates claims that the lens through which business is typically viewed is a set of ideas with the strength of religious beliefs, and he challenges Natalie to identify them. She describes the “Business Creed” and argues that the data challenge the accuracy of these beliefs. In fact, she concludes that the data about how the economy actually works are far from how the “Business Creed” says it should work. In fact, the economy operates so much for the benefit of a small number of people that she claims that the data could even support the idea that “a giant con” is being perpetrated.

Chapter 25: Business, Ethics, and Ideology (continued)

Socrates describes the alleged “confidence game” (‘The Sheriff of Nottingham’) in which the goal is to benefit the rich at everyone else’s expense. Challenged by Socrates to come up with an alternative set of rules and values that would govern how business is done, Natalie describes the “Village Creed.” The CEO responds. Socrates reveals that there was never any question whether the CEO would be offered the new job. He explains that he was the person who originally recommended the CEO for the post, and he encourages the executive to accept.

Epilogue

The executive accepts the position. Now in London, site of the new post, the CEO reflects on the experience with Socrates.

Chapter Summaries

Discussion Questions

Sources

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