Socrates, Aristotle, and Hobbes at Daniels?

January 19, 2012 |

Socrates, Aristotle, and Hobbes? Sounds more like a philosophy or political science class from those freshman and sophomore prerequisite courses taken in undergrad. However, it isn’t. It is part of a course titled, Ethics for the 21st Century. I am currently enrolled and I am revisiting their philosophies in my PMBA program.


The course is one of four that make up the Daniels Compass and MBA core curriculum. The Daniels compass strives to examine “the important aspects of leadership in today’s business environment, including a focus on self-leadership, emotional intelligence, team collaboration, ethics and corporate social responsibility.”

On the first day of class we are given a prisoner’s dilemma problem basically demonstrating how two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest. We then go on to play the game out in teams of two competing for high scores with our classmates.

We have all done the reading for class that week brushing up on the importance of a social contract from Hobbes, ethics and logic from Socrates, and Aristotle’s focus on morality and virtue ethics. From an academic standpoint it seems to me the right answer is to cooperate for the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people. Surely, my classmates would also believe this to be true.

Well, did I get a rude awakening. Our little game was not friendly and turned ugly very quickly. Turns out, cooperation is not a priority for several teams. Treaties are made and then broken. And a few backstabbers emerge out of the woodwork, but not without the class taking note. No one wants a sly one on his or her team project later in the quarter.

The prisoner’s dilemma sparks a lively debate. Just for fun our professor Dennis Wittmer starts to plant the seeds that will set the framework for rest of the class. What was the “right” choice? Survive? Cooperate? Is there an ethical decision here? What’s morality got to do with it?

And of course, he then begins to hint at the business analogies. How should businesses and business professionals operate in the real world? Do we have to always cooperate? Is the greatest good for the greatest number always the best answer? Should business think about how its actions will affect the stakeholders? Is a social contract key to developing trust? The list goes on and on. It has only been three weeks into the class and my brain already hurts.

On the upside I am excited to see where my classmates will take this dialogue. I truly believe that business acumen is no longer the only key to successful business. There is a longing from the public for business professionals to develop a skill-set that is more mindful, considerate, and sustainable producing long lasting and thriving economies for all, not just the immediate future. I have a hunch this ethics class will help me chip away at the latter task.

Kristen is a first-year Professional MBA candidate. She completed her undergraduate degree in International Relations from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. After volunteering for AmeriCorp in Washington, DC she returned to her home, the Colorado Rockies and began working for REI in Denver. After three years of exposure to the world of business she decided to pursue her masters degree hoping to concentrate in international business.

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