Economic Ethics and Philosophy: Can the market be moral?

Freie Universität Berlin

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Economic Ethics and Philosophy: Can the market be moral?

  • Host University

    Freie Universität Berlin

  • Location

    Berlin, Germany

  • Area of Study

    Economics, Ethics, European Studies

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Prerequisites

    Students should be able to speak and read English at the upper intermediate level (B2) or higher.

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Contact Hours

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Course description

    Modern capitalist market economy is an extremely powerful instrument to create wealth and to satisfy human demands – and to exploit, alienate and destroy the very societies it is supposed to serve. How can it be made moral?

    Actually, there are quite a number of ways: for example, through deliberate lawmaking, responsible research & development (e.g. technology assessment), through enlightened consumer choices and sustainable use of human and natural capital assets. But they often come at a high cost and involve more fundamental questions:

    - How can politicians and lawmakers regulate the market for the common good without suffocating it?
    - How can big corporations and tech companies continue to deliver innovative services without monopolizing the market and dominating their customers?
    -What does a fair distribution of income look like?
    - How do we assign value to natural and social goods (like clean air or low crime rates) and how do we measure sustainable welfare beyond traditional economic growth?
    - How can consumers harness their own power to make informed choices and act in accordance with their values?
    - Are digital business models based on artificial intelligence and machine learning threatening the autonomy of consumer choice?
    - What does corporate social responsibility look like in times of crisis?

    These and other questions are not only of interest to economists and business people but are relevant to all economic agents (individuals, companies, state institutions, etc.).

    To answer these questions, the course equips participants with key ethical approaches to economic behavior (virtue ethics, religious teachings, deontology, utilitarianism, master morality, neo-liberalism), approaches which have been or still are dominating ethical discourses on economic behavior.

    These ethical approaches and ideas range from Ancient Greek philosophy to modern economic theory (Friedman, Ostrom, and Game Theory). Since religions, philosophies and social theories are major sources of ethical conduct, the course covers a wide array of these, including teachings of the Catholic Church fathers, ideas from European modern period philosophy (Kant, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche), from modern critical sociology (Weber, Adorno, Marcuse) and neo-liberalism (von Mises, von Hayek).

    As a major learning outcome, participants develop ethical frames of reference which allow them to identify and tackle ethical dilemmas posed by today’s economy. Particularly, they will learn do adopt strategies that avoid moral hazards and self-harming or self-defeating behavior. Thus, they will be able to act ethically conscious in real life situations, be it…

    - as decision-makers in firms and investment companies allocating capital, workforce and bonuses,
    - as scientific researchers launching technologies that impact human life and the environment,
    - as customers rewarding sustainable or punishing unsustainable business models, production methods or supply chains or
    - as lawmakers or leaders of NGOs setting legal and ethical standards and fighting collusion, corruption, fraud, exploitation, overproduction & -consumption, wastefulness, obsolescence, extinction, free-riding or other forms of cost externalizing.

    Participants’ learning outcomes will be put to test in a hands-on way:

    - when we discuss contemporary topics in business or economic ethics,
    - when we conduct online expert interviews on e.g. corporate compliance, digital business models or the ethics of artificial intelligence and - when we play (and have fun with) a CSR (corporate social responsibility) online simulation game. Below the line, participants will learn to analyze, interpret and transform economic behavior – first and foremost their own!

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.

ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits are converted to semester credits/quarter units differently among U.S. universities. Students should confirm the conversion scale used at their home university when determining credit transfer.

Availability of courses is based on enrollment numbers. All students should seek pre-approval for alternate courses in the event of last minute class cancellations


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