Course Syllabus

PHIL 103.01 Business and Computer Ethics

Instructor: Prof. Kyle Swan

Contact: Canvas message

Office hours: Monday, Wednesday 12pm-1pm. See course announcement for Zoom invite

It is by directing resources to the most productive uses that wealth is chiefly created. And there can be no doubt that most of those who have built up great fortunes in the form of new industrial plants and the like have thereby benefited more people through creating opportunities for more rewarding employment than if they had given their superfluity away to the poor. — Friedrich Hayek

Since about 1800, the world has witnessed astonishing economic growth with per capita income increasing by a factor of 10. That’s not 10 percent, that’s 10 times more bread, pens, education and whatever since 1800. For countries like Australia, Germany and the United States that have been able to take greater advantage of modern innovations, it is more like a factor of 30—or on the order of 3000%. It is the Great Enrichment and what is remarkable about the wealth explosion is that, despite the rise and fall of civilizations and empires, it had never happened before. — Deirdre McCloskey

Catalogue Description

From the catalogue:
Analytical treatment of controversial moral issues which emerge in the business world, e.g., affirmative action, corporate responsibility, the global economy, industry and environmental damage, social effects of advertising, the computer threat to personal privacy, ownership of computer programs. Discussion will focus on basic moral principles and concepts relevant to these issues.

Commercial activity has been and is a source of productivity, innovation, technological advancement and wealth. It contributes to the well-being of society. One big question we will take up is how it does this.

But corporations and business leaders engaged in commercial activity also behave immorally and irresponsibly.

Ideally, we’d have more of the former and less of the latter.  This course supposes that the tools of ethical analysis can be of some help in explaining some of these problems and proposing ways to avoid them. It can, first, at a micro-level:

  • Why aren’t people more morally virtuous more often? Why do morally decent people do bad things?
  • Are there ways we could make use of discoveries in moral psychology to improve our ethical performance?
  • What moral virtues and moral principles ground good business practices that lead to more people leading better lives?

At a macro-level the issues more concern what commercial activity would look like in a just society:

  • Do corporations have any special moral duties or obligations? What is “corporate social responsibility”? To whom are corporate managers (CEOs) primarily responsible? What kind of responsibilities do they have?
  • What are the moral foundations of commercial activity and a market society? What virtues, if any, are on display in such activity? Why should we have private property and a system that allocates scarce resources with a competitive price system?
  • What are the moral limits of markets? Are there some things that should not be bought or sold? Why? In what ways would commercial activity be constrained or regulated in a just society?

Learning Outcomes

By the conclusion of this course, it should be true that students (a) understand the moral and political issues that affect questions of the appropriate role of corporations in a just society and are able to (b) apply this understanding to make sense of existing social practices and institutions (c) analyze current problems and controversies and (d) evaluate proposed solutions to them. You will need to give evidence of your ability to understand, apply, analyze and evaluate in your writing and contributions to class discussions.

Phil 103 is a GE course in area D. Area D learning outcomes are that you:

  1. Describe and evaluate ethical and social values in their historical and cultural contexts.
  2. Explain and apply the principles and methods of academic disciplines to the study of social and individual behavior.
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of the role of human diversity in human society, for example, race, ethnicity, class, age, ability/disability, sexual identity, gender and gender expression.
  4. Explain and critically examine social dynamics and issues in their historical and cultural contexts.

Texts, Assigned Readings

There is no text to purchase. Click links to readings as shown in the Weekly Schedule and Modules.


The course is graded on 100pts (1pt = 1%), with these point thresholds:

A 93+

A- 90

B+ 88

B 83

B- 80

C+ 78

C 73

C- 70

D 60

F <60

ALL assignments and essays are administered within Canvas. All assignments must be completed in the appropriate assignment or assessment area in Canvas.

Technology Component
Please note, this course is run on Canvas. Assignments, readings, dates and class notification options will all be posted there. You will need a saclink account to participate in this component of the course. Technical problems must be addressed to the SacLink Help Line @ 278-7337.

Reading and Lecture Quizzes (11 x 5pts = 55pts)

There will be 11 scheduled quizzes with questions based on assigned readings and video lectures.

Critical Précis (3 x 5pts = 15pts)
You will be required to write and submit three short critical précis papers as noted in the Weekly Schedule and Modules. Each of these will consist of a 400-500 word summary and explication of an assigned article or chapter from the module in which it is assigned. If there are multiple readings in a module that I have assigned a précis, I will identify the on that should be the subject of your précis.

I require that you follow quite closely the "method of successive elaboration" for completing these précis  assignments, described here. Following this method should help to avoid writing poor, surface-level, generic summaries. The most common way of writing a poor summary is to simply restate a number of things in the assigned reading. But I don’t want a listing of things the author says; rather, I want to see that you can identify the key idea in the reading and explain the author’s argument(s) for that idea. Focus. Go for depth of explanation, rather than breadth of coverage.

On-Line Discussion (6 x 5pts = 30pts)
You will be required to contribute to 6 discussion forum assignments as noted in the Weekly Schedule and Modules. I will provide a prompt or question which will require you to reflect on some aspect of the assigned reading or lecture(s). These prompts will serve to focus discussion. Each student is expected to read, follow and contribute to the discussions of their class-mates. Contributions may consist of:

  • asking philosophical questions which probe the reading and engage in further explication and analysis of the texts,
  • responding thoughtfully to someone else's question,
  • suggesting connections between this reading and other course material,
  • bring current events and other empirical facts/evidence to bear on the reading.

All of this must be conducted in the effort to better understand the texts and to further our appreciation of the material’s strengths and weaknesses. Polemics, ideological shortcuts, and other rather thoughtless and unscholarly contributions will not satisfy this requirement and should be resisted. Proper on-line etiquette is expected; violations will not be tolerated. If you don't know what proper on-line etiquette consists of, err on the side of not being a jerk.

For each prompt, write your answer and tend to any questions or responses your classmates make to your post. Also, raise a response or question to at least two of your classmates’ answers to the prompt. I'll take a dim view of students who try to meet these expectations with a flurry of posts at the end of the week, or all in one day. This strategy suggests to me that you aren't really engaged in the discussion. See further instructions in the Discussion forum.

Course Policies

Diversity and Respect:
CSUS attracts a diverse population of students, faculty and staff with a wide range of cultural norms, lifestyles, beliefs and backgrounds. Opinions may vary on many issues, but students and faculty in this course will be expected to converse and debate in a respectful and tolerant manner.

This course will only be successful if everyone feels free to express her/his views and personal understanding of the course material.  Let us all be mindful and respectful of each other’s opinions.  Everyone has a responsibility to make the course environment a place where we can respectfully agree to disagree, and perhaps even settle some long unsettled questions. 

All assignments are due at the date and time specified in the assignment. If you know you will not be able to meet a due date, it is your responsibility to consult with the instructor before the assignment is due. When submitting any assignment in Canvas, ALWAYS check its status to ensure it was submitted. It is your responsibility to ensure your assignment was submitted accurately and timely. Do not wait for the instructor to ask you about it or for a “0” to appear in your grade column!

No extensions, no exceptions. It is your responsibility to know the due dates and to plan accordingly. Leaving an assignment until the day or two prior is risky and makes you more vulnerable than you already are to factors and events in the universe beyond your control!

Plagiarism and cheating are serious academic offenses which will not be tolerated in this class. Assignments in which plagiarism or other forms of cheating are found will at the least be graded at 0 (not just an F). Incidents of cheating and plagiarism may be reported both to the Department Chair and to the Judicial Officer in the Office of Student Affairs for possible further administrative sanction. It is your responsibility to know and comply with the University’s Academic Honesty Policy.

Students who have a documented disability (visible or invisible) and require accommodation or assistance with assignments, tests, attendance, note taking, etc., must contact the instructor by the end of the second week of the term so that  arrangements can be made. Failure to notify and consult with the instructor by this date may impede his ability to offer you the necessary accommodation and assistance in a timely fashion. Also be sure to consult with the Services to Students with Disabilities to see what other campus services and accommodation options are available for you. All information will remain confidential.

Students with other types of accommodation requirements, such as English as a second language, are invited to discuss them with the instructor to facilitate understanding and the best learning experience for all. All information will remain confidential.

Course Schedule

See “Modules” section for full  course schedule of topics, readings, video lectures, quizzes, and other assignments.

All indicated assigned readings should be read completely and very early in the module in which they are assigned. Précis assignments and quizzes should be completed and submitted by the last day of the module in which they are assigned. Discussion based assignments should be conducted as ongoing discussions throughout the week of the module in which they are assigned, and completed by the last day of the module in which they are assigned.

If you have any general questions about the class, its requirements, etc., please post them in the General Forum.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due