This module is a resource for lecturers   


Guidelines to develop a stand-alone course


This Module provides an outline for a three-hour class, but there is potential to develop its topics further into a stand-alone course. The scope and structure of such a course will be determined by the specific needs of each context, but a possible structure is presented here as a suggestion.



Brief description


Ethics, by design

Introduction to course, raising the question of whether the three senses of a "good life" are aligned with each other or are in competition. Does doing good lead to doing well in business (does ethics pay?). The first half of this lecture presents the evidence of how ethics is positively related to business success in the long run (not necessarily in the short run). It makes the case that the primary practical argument for ethics in business (and society) is for sustainability. Ethical systems last whereas unethical and corrupt systems, for a variety of reasons, succeed only in the very short term. The second half of this lecture presents the four myths of morality and introduces ethics as a design problem, rather than as a belief problem.


Ethical awareness

Explains how good people can do bad things when ethics are not on the top of their minds. One key to encouraging ethical behaviour is to make sure that people's ethical beliefs are chronically salient.


Conflicted interests

Describes the psychological processes that operate in conflicts of interests. These processes operate outside of conscious awareness, and so people are not aware of how their own judgment is being corrupted. Discusses research demonstrating that disclosure does not eliminate problems with conflicts of interest. Only avoiding the conflicts in the first place eliminates the problems they cause.


Moral courage: speaking truth to power

Why do people who observe unethical behaviour fail to speak up and call it out? This lecture discusses the psychology of whistle-blowing and describes what insights it provides for enabling people to report unethical behaviour when they see it.



Aligning financial incentives with ethical goals is an obvious and intuitive solution to some unethical behaviour, but it is incomplete. Pro-social incentives can also be introduced into one's personal life, in organizations, and in societies to encourage ethical behaviour directly. The benefit of using pro-social incentives is that they are cheap, and surprisingly effective.


Power, status, and ethics

Describes behavioural science research about the effect of power and status on ethical behaviour. Power does not corrupt, as the famous quote from John Dalberg-Acton goes, but rather it reveals a person's motives and intentions. Status, however, seems to distance people from others, and in so doing can increase unethical behaviour. Focuses on how to guard organizations and societies from the ethical risks that can arise from both power and status.


Ethical cultures, by design

Describes the power of social norms to influence behaviour, meaning that social norms are also a key component of designing an ethical life, organization, or society. Tone at the top is far from sufficient. This session then puts pieces of the course discussed to this point together into understanding how one might design an ethical organization, focusing on the key levers of behavioural change (hiring, promoting, rewarding, and monitoring). Students are asked to think of an ethical beacon (a company that they perceive to be relatively ethical), and these examples (along with others from the instructor) are discussed.



Ethical behaviour is often rewarded and punished through the reputation a person, organization, or society forms. This lecture focuses on how reputations are formed, how morality is one of the two key components of reputational inferences, and addresses how to manage one's reputation when a moral failing occurs.



This lecture addresses whether being good (i.e., ethical) is aligned with feeling good. Is being ethical aligned with being happy? Describes surprising research from behavioural science about how doing good for others increases well-being more than people expect, and explains why doing good can lead to feeling good (which also identifies when doing good might NOT lead to feeling good). Students do random acts of kindness, and write gratitude letters, as class exercises to experience the effects for themselves.


Values, habits, and character

The key to creating character is behaving routinely in ways that are consistent with your values. This lecture describes how to design contexts in ways that create good habits, describes how long this is likely to take, and explains how this can be used to build character. Creating stable contexts that encourage ethical behaviour can create a more ethical personality (or character).


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