Philosophy of Business

Course Description:

How can we do well in any endeavor unless we understand what we are doing? What you believe about business affects both your choice of career path and your opinion on business ethics and regulation. Most courses on business ethics spend the entire course examining ethics, but not the underlying institution. Most business courses focus on the tools for success, but not on the nature of that success. This course is meant to compliment these other courses by focusing on the question “What is Business?”. The course takes a multi-disciplinary approach and examines business in history, philosophy, management theory, and literature. This course is meant for both business majors interested in humanities related to their discipline, and humanities majors wishing to learn more about business.

Course objectives include the following:

·         Examine various concepts of business

·         Nuance understanding of the practice of business

·         Examine consensus and lack thereof in notions of business

·         Explore conflicts and syntheses of ideas in philosophy, economics, and management

·         Define what we mean—both personally and collectively—when we use the term business

Learning Outcomes include the following:

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

·         Identify the various elements of the business enterprise

·         Develop personal goals that are congruent with their understanding of business

·         Trace the sources of their and their culture’s conceptions of business

·         Understand the criteria by which they judge what counts as business

·         Apply definitions of business to enhance critical examination of current events and issues.

Teaching Philosophy:

My classes are student centered in multiple ways.  First, I expect no more of you than I do of myself.  You are a full time student with other classes and responsibilities.  I am a fulltime faculty, with other classes and responsibilities.  Making this a rewarding class means recognizing that it is not the only thing in our lives, but that it is an important part for at least the current semester.  A course that demands too little is a waste of time, and a course that demands too much is an unfair drain on your other obligations.  Since this is the first time I have taught this course I shall constantly monitor work load and progress to make any necessary changes.

Second, I am here to help you get the education you want. That is how I perceive my role as professor and facilitator.  I completely dedicated to helping you with any questions or problems you encounter with the course material.  Within the rules laid out by this syllabus, I also do my best to help students balance other obligations with this course.  However, I do not read minds.  Getting the education you want requires that you communicate with me.

Third, helping students does not mean doing whatever they ask.  It also does not mean agreeing with everything that is said in class.  You are no more expected to agree with the professor than the professor to agree with you.  In fact my general philosophy in life comes to the fore here.  I will challenge you on your thoughts and arguments.  Most likely, in all our exchanges, I will never completely agree with you.  I will do my best to make sure of it.  My goal is to help you explore and formulate your ideas on business.  I do not believe this is best served by a great deal of head nodding.  I will also show you how this can be done in a supportive and civil manner.  Showing true respect for any idea means engaging that idea and asking the person why they hold that idea.  While it is hard work, it is an enjoyable process; it is also why they killed Socrates.  I will do my best, with your guidance, to strike a happy balance.

Finally, I enjoy answering questions.  Not everything is an argument.  There will be many occasions when we are mutually involved in an exploration of ideas and practices.  If there is something you do not understand, or would like clarified, please ask.  You can ask either on the Discussion Boards or by emailing me.  If your email is not of a personal nature, I may post the answer on my Blog as well as emailing it.


4 short papers – 50 pts each

4 exams – 50 pts each

Participation – 100 pts

Short Papers:

The purpose of the short papers is to relate class readings to current issues and events.  Papers will be due September 30, October 31, November 30 and December 14.  Please note the short amount of time between the last two papers.

The first three papers will relate the readings done up to that point to a current event or issue.  Students are free to choose their own topics but must get instructor approval.  The final paper will relate the course to how you perceive/pursue business.

Each paper should be between 850 and 1,000 words.  Writing is editing.  Students will have a chance to improve their grades by editing their papers based on my comments.

Citations:  Students are required to site the sources of all information they use for any of the papers.  Students must use one of the following four styles:  APA, Chicago, MLA, or Turabian.  See  or Wikipedia for help on citations.  Also, students are welcome to use the Zotero download for Firefox, or any other computer program, to make their citations.  See for Firefox Zotero.


Exams are open book open note.  I will give you at least 90 minutes for each exam.  Exams will consist of multiple choice, true/false and short essay questions covering the readings, lecture notes, and discussion boards.


Participation is carried out mainly through the Discussion Board.  Students are expected to contribute to discussions the week they are due.  Except for the “General Questions” thread, all discussion Boards close on the Monday of the following week.

There will be multiple discussion questions.  Unless stated otherwise, students are expected to at least answer two discussion questions and comment on the posts of one other person.  That makes for at least three meaningful posts each week.  Students may also post, and comment on, an outside article or blog as part of their required participation.  Remember, good posts are thought out and articulate. Simply pasting a link you like is not participation without thoughtful comment.  You should post these under the “Current Events” thread.

Having this many options is important since redundant posts count for less.  Do not say the exact same thing, literally or figuratively, as someone before you.   If you think you are too close, you probably are and should move on to answering another question.

Please also take note, this is the required minimum.  To earn an “A” with three posts, all three must be excellent.  Additional good posts can help your participation grade.

Participation Grading:

In addition to the frequency of posts, the quality of the posts is vital.  While no list can be exhaustive, this list should guide you in the proper direction.

No Credit C B A
Simply repeating   what someone else says.

One word answers or

purely emotive responses e.g. “Yeah, that was great!  I was thinking the same thing.”

Thread that bears no relation to the topic at hand.

Failure to use any grammar or punctuation.  Thread composed of texting language e.g. “ur gr8”

Thread contains some similarities to other posts.

Brief answers that do not explain the topic.  e.g. “For Hobbes, justice is property.”

Thread that bears minimal relation to the topic.  Makes people pause and think “How is this related?”

Thread containing 3 to 4 mistakes in grammar or spelling.

Thread is new.

Sufficient answer to the question.  Defines terms and references readings.    Reader understands clearly what the poster is talking about.

Thread is relevant to the topic.  People do not need to pause and think “How is this relevant?”

Thread Contains 1-2 grammar or spelling errors.

Thread is new.

Goes over and beyond.  Poster displays a command of the subject line.  Poster understands trade-off between length and clarity.

Thread is relevant to the topic and makes reader see topic in a new light.

Thread contains 0-1 grammar or spelling errors.


Reasonable accommodations are available for students who have a documented disability that affects their learning.  A documented disability can include:  physical, psychological, or health issues, vision, hearing, cognitive, or learning impairments, and emotional or attentional disorders.  All accommodations must be approved through the Office of Disability Services (ODS) (217-206-6666), HRB 80. Please notify the instructor during the first week of class of any accommodations needed for the course. While O.D.S. does accept late applications, accommodations are not retroactive.


Any time you use words or ideas that are not your own, you must give credit to the author, whether or not you are quoting directly from that author.  Failure to do so constitutes plagiarism, a serious academic violation.  Penalties for plagiarism may vary depending upon the extent of the problem, but are always serious.  In the Honors program this is a violation of the Honor Code and of the Campus “Academic Integrity Policy” approved in the Spring of 2008.  For more information on this policy please see . Be sure to consult with your instructor or the Center for Teaching and Learning in Brookens 460 if you have questions about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it.  Please note that borrowing from fellow CAP students without proper attribution constitutes plagiarism.


Readings are contained in the Weekly Sessions in Blackboard.  They are also contained under Readings in the main menu.  Readings will be roughly 40-50 pages per week.  The readings can be difficult and students should expect to put in at least 5 hours of reading per week.  I have no intention of letting you struggle alone.  That is why the Discussion Board is so important.

None of the assignments requires reading ahead.  I want students focused on the readings due for each week, so I will make readings available two days prior to the start of each session.  Each week’s readings are in the session folder.  Selections from the following authors and their works will be used for class.

Week 1:

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Readings on the Prisoners’ Dilemma

Week 2:

John Locke, Second Treatise on Government

Readings on eminent Domain abuse

Week 3:

David Hume, Enquiries Concerning the Principles of Morals

Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation

Robert Sugden on spontaneous order.

Week 4:

Continue week 3 readings.

Short Paper Assignment

Week 5:

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population

Week 6:

Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

Week 7:

Andrew Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth

Week 8:

Andrew Carngeie, The Gospel of Wealth:  An Employers View of the Labor Question

Readings on the Homestead Strike

Week 9:

Samuel Gompers, Labor and the Employer

Week 10:

J. Laurence Laughlin, “The Unions Versus Higher Wages” (Gompers directly                                 cites and argues against this piece in Week 9.)

Frederick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management

Week 11:

Milton Friedman, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profit”

R. Edward Freeman, “A Stakeholder Theory of the Modern Corporation”

Alexei Marcoux, “Business Ethics”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Week 12:

Ronald Duska, “The Why’s of Business Revisited”

William Kline, “Business Ethics from the Internal Point of View”

William Kline, “Business as an Ethical Standard”

Week 13:

Robert Solomon, It’s Good Business

Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments

William Kline, “Flourishing Through Trade”

Week 14:

David Hume, Enquiries Concerning the Principles of Morals

Plato, The Republic

Week 15:

Continue week 14 readings

Week 16:



Taught as LIS 460 Philosophy of Business at the University of Illinois, Springfield.

Author: William Kline, Ph.D.

About William Kline

William Kline is an associate professor in the department of Business Administration at the University of Illinois, Springfield.
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