Study Questions

Session 1 Study Questions: Course Introduction—Wealth, Values, and Human Nature

  1. What basic premise about human nature informs Hobbes’ general view of our interactions?
  2. Do you agree with Hobbes that, given who he thinks we are as a species, life in the state of nature would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”?
  3. How does Locke’s view of man before the social contract differ from that of Hobbes? What fundamental assumptions on Locke’s part contribute to that difference?
  4. What is Locke’s view of money?

Session 2 Study Questions: Personal and Professional Practice I—The Reality

  1. Have you ever experienced a managerial challenge similar to that faced by Charles Foley in “Kathryn McNeil” / A? How did you address it?
  2. What are Kathryn McNeil’s responsibilities as she applies for and begins her job at Sayer Microworld?
  3. Do the strategic circumstances of Sayer Marks Systems have a bearing on this story?
  4. If you were Charles Foley, what would you do to address the situation represented by the conflict between Kathryn McNeil and Lisa Walters?

Session 3 Study Questions: Personal and Professional Practice II—A Question of Character

  1. Badaracco speaks of “building” character through defining moments. Do you agree with that notion?
  2. How does Badaracco’s formula for action in “The Discipline of Building Character” differ from the stereotypical notion of “doing the right thing”?
  3. Do you think you possess “moral imagination”? How has it manifested itself in your life?
  4. How does Mencius’ view of human nature compare with those of Hobbes and Locke?

Across two millennia, do Mencius’ views resonate with Badaracco and Werhane’s?

Session 4 Study Questions: Personal and Professional Practice III—Commitments

  1. At one point in “It’s Time . . . ,” the authors ask point-blank in a subtitle, “Does Management Education Add Value?” (p. 2) How would you respond to this question, based on your experience at MIT Sloan?
  2. As you read Khurana and Nohria’s proposal to professionalize business, do you worry that a professionalized business community might put business creativity and entrepreneurship at risk?
  3. In the spring of 2009, students at HBS launched a professional oath for business, “The MBA Oath,” which many in the graduating class signed. Would you commit to the “Hippocratic Oath for Managers” proposed in this article (p. 6)? Why, or why not?

Session 5 Study Questions: Personal and Professional Practice IV—Reports from the Field


  • Rishi Dean, Product and Technology, Sittercity
  • Monica Guzman, Fellow, Nieman Foundation
  • Malavika Jayaram, Executive Director, Digital Asia Hub
  • James O’Connell, President, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program

I. Each Panelist will have 8" to Address the Following Questions

  1. What does it mean to practice your profession: Business, journalism, law, medicine?
  2. How would you describe the role of professionals generally in today’s world? What makes a profession, and what rights and responsibilities does the label confer / impose?
  3. What ethical challenges do you anticipate that you and your professional colleagues will face in the coming years, and how will they affect your practice?

II. Background Questions for 15.270 Student Participants

  1. How does Steven Pinker’s explanation of morality as seen through the lens of evolutionary psychology affect your (and Badaracco’s) notions of character?
  2. Based on Pinker’s exposition, might we reasonably expect a set of universal ethical standards across the professions, and in what might that set consist?
  3. The word “selfish” often surfaces in assessments of MBA’s as compared to people in other walks of life. How does Pinker’s discussion of the “selfish gene,” altruism, etc., inflect that stereotypical reading of business students and their professional practice?

Session 6 Study Questions: Corporate Social Responsibility I—Driving Values

  1. What consequences do you foresee for business practice, if we accept Stout’s argument that corporations have more latitude in setting their goals than most observers seem to believe?
  2. Do you see evidence of a broader reassessment of corporate responsibility, in the wake of the Great Recession?
  3. How do you account for what happened at Enron (see Bakan)? How would you assess the relative importance of culture, environment, and personal values in the company’s history?

Session 7 Study Questions: Corporate Social Responsibility II—The Great Recession

  1. In your opinion, what factors produced the Great Recession, and why didn’t we foresee it?
  2. Do you believe that various players in the U.S. and globally—gov’ts, central banks, corporations, consumers—have taken appropriate steps to avoid a repetition of this economic crisis?
  3. How do you read the outcome of the election of 2012 for the business community?

Session 8 Study Questions: Corporate Social Responsibility III—Origins of the Marketplace

  1. What place does business have in the societies Plato imagines in The Republic?
  2. How does Aristotle evaluate wealth and the creation of wealth in The Politics?
  3. Take half an hour to respond to the questions on p. 3 of Lynn Sharp Paine’s “Corporate Purpose and Responsibility.” Jot down a few notes: Be prepared to share your views with the class.
  4. Paine gives a range of formulas for corporate purpose: Which ones echo the two ancient Greek philosophers’ theories? Can corporations function today by the ethical standards the two men set?

Session 9 Study Questions: Corporate Social Responsibility IV— Definitions and Strategies

  1. In your previous place of work, had the organization chosen “an objective function and a set of normative constraints” (Elias / Dees, p. 16) to govern its operations? What were they?
  2. Can you give examples from real life where each of the four schools of moral philosophy—consequentialist, rules-and-rights, virtue, relationship ethics (Elias / Dees, p. 13)—is applied?
  3. Can we read out of Frank’s discussion an explanation for the high salaries earned by business executives?

Session 10 Study Questions: System Design I—Quest for the Good Society

  1. What does Thoreau mean when he comments: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (p. 50)?
  2. What are Thoreau’s “business habits,” and what “business” does he practice (pp. 62–63)?
  3. How does Skinner rethink Thoreau’s individualist agenda? Does it work for you?
  4. What principles drove Henry Ford as he sought to create his ideal community in the Amazon? Where do daily life and the principles of industrial organization intersect there, and to what effect?
  5. What place can and must society allocate to business? Will this place vary across cultures, or do you perceive a universal business culture that all societies might plausibly accept? Does Nathan Heller effectively capture the pros and cons of such a vision?

Session 11 Study Questions: System Design II—Culture, Governance, and the Individual

  1. How would you describe Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership style, based on his comparison of Asian and Western cultures?
  2. What is the place of culture in society, as Lee Kuan Yew conceives it?
  3. How do Confucian values manifest themselves in Lee Kuan Yew’s vision for a successful society? Would you be comfortable working in that environment?

Session 12 Study Questions: System Design III—A Critique of Capital

  1. What do you make of Tocqueville’s mid-nineteenth century assessment of the American character, and the place of business in it?
  2. Is there a message for business people in Tocqueville’s comment that “the science of association is the mother of science”? What is “the science of association,” and how might it bear on business education?
  3. Do you assign as much importance to entrepreneurial activity in the global scheme of things as does Charles Handy, in “Tocqueville Revisited,” when he focuses on the “fleas” of the new capitalism?
  4. Muhammad Yunus speaks of profit maximization as only one way of looking at the world, and poverty as a product of “the system,” not the individual: Do you think that poverty is caused by a focus on profit maximization, and if so, could it be eliminated through what Yunus calls social business?
  5. What role(s) do the three authors for this session assign business, relative to government and the overall political system in which it finds itself? Can the business community aspire to shape public policy? Should it?

Session 13 Study Questions: Conclusion and Next Steps

  1. How does the rarified social atmosphere of Aspen color the argument that Rich makes in this piece about the global importance of sustainability?
  2. What role does Auden Schendler play in setting the sustainability agenda in the town? Does this seem appropriate?
  3. Where do public sector, private sector, and civil society intersect in the experimental setting that is Aspen?
  4. Can you in good faith apply the principles and compromises that the players in this story bring to the table, to your own business practice? How?

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2016
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights