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Video 1

Welcome to our course on unethical decision making.

>> We are happy that you decided to participate in our expedition to the dark side of the force.
>> My name is Guido Palazzo. I am Professor of Business Ethics.
>> And I'm Ulrich Hoffrage, the Professor of Decision Theory.
>> We both teach at the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University
of Lausanne in Switzerland.
>> We have been teaching a course titled unethical decision making at the masters level, and we are very
excited that we can now teach it to you on the Coursera platform.
You probably have seen the description and the teaser of this course already, and so you know that it's built
upon a very simple assumption.
Context can be stronger than reason and bad things are not only done by bad people, but very often, by
good people.
This sounds quite scary because it implies that all of us including the two of us and you we are potential
>> Why do good people do bad things? They might have a inappropriate perception of reality.
Our decisions result from how we interpret reality. If this interpretation becomes too narrow, we might not
see the obvious, for instance, the ethical aspects of a decision. We can become ethically blind.
>> How exactly does this happen? And what can be done about it? How can we protect ourselves and our
organization against the risk of ethical blindness? These are guiding questions of our course.
>> Over the next seven weeks, we will look at unethical decisions from various perspectives.
>> In the first week, we will consider what philosophers thought about the issue, and how ideas about good
and evil changed over the last centuries.
In the second week we will introduce the concept of ethical blindness and discuss some case studies to
illustrate it.
>> In the third week, we will again look at some cases and zoom into one of the key elements of ethical
blindness. The idea that we develop our understanding of reality through framing. Our frames can be too
narrow to see the ethical dimension of a decision.
>> Another key element is the power of strong contexts. It is important to understand how predators
imposed by these context can remove ethical aspects from our radar screen.
>> With different shape between three types of context, the immediate situation, the organizational context
and the overarching institutional context, and we will devote the weeks four, five, and six to look at these
three types in more detail.

>> Finally, the last week, week seven, we'll focus on solutions. What can be done, both in the individual level
but also on the organizational level, to reduce the risk of ethical blindness.
>> Regarding work load, you decide how much you want to invest in this course. The light version is that you
just follow our video lectures. But you may also want to go beyond and look at various materials we propose
on our website. In addition, we invite you to participate in our discussion forums in which you can share your
own thoughts and your own stories or react to the stories of other participants.
>> You will also have the opportunity to participate in different quizzes. Each will have 10 to 15 questions
based on the content provided in the videos.
>> We will also have some live sessions, where you will pick issues that you raised in the forums, or address
questions that you have sent us beforehand.
>> We will ask you to describe in a final essay your own defense strategies against ethical blindness in your
organization. Or alternatively, to synthesize the lessons learned from the course for your decision making in
the future.
Please respect the deadlines in order to pass the course. You will find all the details of the grading policies on
the Coursera platform.
>> Our core statistics tell us that you come from all over the world. We have participants from over 180
countries. This cultural diversity is very important for us. Most of the time, as you will learn in this first week
already, there is no clear right and wrong answer to ethical questions. Your answers will depend on who
you are, where you come from, which values you hold, and which philosophical tools you use to find a
eaningful answer to pressing dilemmas. Listening to each other's perspective is hence a key element of
widening people's perspectives on ethical issues.
>> This course is open to everybody. You do not need to have a specific skill or some specific knowledge to
follow it. We would also like to create a community. You can use the forums to discuss between yourselves.
You can share your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag. We will also use this hashtag for our live webcast
>> You can also inscribe to our Facebook site on ethical decision making. Ethical decisions have a lot to do
with what the philosopher Hannah Arendt called moral imagination. The ability to have a very broad
understanding of a decision at stake. The diversity you'll represent with your cultural and professional
backgrounds will be very helpful in developing such moral imagination.
>> Maybe with this course we can help each other to make this world a better place, to be more mindful in
the world that is increasingly pushing us to the borders that separate right from wrong. We are looking
forward to working with you towards this goal.
May the force be with us.

Video 2
Welcome to the second video of the first week of our course on unethical decision making. We would like to
start our course on unethical decision making by sharing some reflections on the history of evil with you.
In this session, you will learn how philosophers explained evil throughout history and you will see how our
current understanding of evil developed over time.
This is a course on unethical decision making. It is based on one central argument. When making decisions,
we are embedded in contexts. These contexts can be so strong that you might move to the dark side of the
force despite our good intentions and values.
We might do the wrong thing without even realizing that what we do is wrong. We become blinded for the
ethical dimension of our decisions. How does this dark side of the force look like? What is evil? Where does
it come from? Here, we can deliver only a rough sketch of this very big debate that is lasting since at least
2,000 years.
Let me take a look at these questions from my own cultural perspective, the context of Europe and its
history. If we start with the premodern perspective, we will see that the world-view of the Middle Ages was
a combination of Christianity and ancient Greek philosophy. Human beings were perceived as being born
into a world with two distinct orders, the order of nature called cosmos, the order of society called polis.
Cosmos and polis were perceived as being in harmony. Simply spoken, polis followed cosmos. The
structure of nature reinforced a rational social order. So the premodern perception of evil discussed by the
philosopher Augustine, for instance, followed this logic. His argument can be summarized as follows. God
created the world and it was good. Man lived in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and had
to leave the paradise because of this, and evil is the consequence of the fall of man. Two forms of evil exist,
natural evil, understood as God's punishment. God might send an earthquake or a tsunami to punish us for
our sinful lives. And moral evil, which results from our decisions led by our weak character and caused by
our alienation from God. Within this worldview, however, very soon a logical problem appeared. The
problem that is called a theodicy problem because there are three claims that are very difficult to, to bring
Evil exists, God is benevolent, and God is omnipotent.
Questions that drove philosophers crazy in the Middle Ages and beyond were the following. God could have
created the world with fewer crimes and misfortune. Why does crime exist? God created eternal suffering
in hell for limited bad action. Why does suffering exist? Is God superior or inferior to reason? If reason is
superior, God is weak. If God is superior, the link between guilt and punishment, good and evil, is just
The philosopher Leibniz came with a solution to this theodicy problem. According to him, God's action
happen for the best of us. There must be a link between sin and suffering because God has created the best
of all possible worlds. Sin, in the sense of moral evil, is linked to suffering in the sense of natural evil even if
we cannot understand and see the causality. This was a dominating worldview that was shaken at latest in
1755 when an earthquake happened at Lisbon. Lisbon at the time was one of the wealthiest cities in the
world. It was the cosmopolitan harbor for the exploration and colonization of the world.

On November 1, 1755, Lisbon was shaken by an earthquake. This earthquake shocked the Western
civilization more than any event since the fall of Rome. If cosmos and polis are connected, why do
earthquakes happen? Why did this horrible earthquake happen in Lisbon? Was it a punishment of god? The
earthquake occurred in the morning of November 1 and lasted for about ten minutes. Many houses got
destroyed. The sky turned dark with dust. After the earthquake, terrible fires rage over the city. People
desperately tried to flee to the harbor. However, the earthquake triggered a tsunami and huge waves
smashed the port. Those who were looking for shelter at the waterfront died. All this looked like a
destruction orchestrated by God. But how could God do this on All Saints Day? In particular, people were
puzzled by the fact that most churches got destroyed while the quarter with the whore houses remained
more or less intact. The earthquake of Lisbon sent intellectual shock waves through Europe and since Lisbon,
the belief that natural evil is connected to social evil was dropped more or less.
Society focused on the evil it an reach, moral evil, evil done by human beings. And the French philosopher
Jean-Jacques Rousseau delivered a highly influential new idea on evil. According to him, God created the
free will and we abuse it. Evil develops over time. It has a history and we can influence it. Evil is an
alienation from human nature and counter forces against evil are first, a better self knowledge. And second,
better institutions of politics and education. In other words, in order to fight evil, we need pedagogy, and
psychology, and politics.
With the philosopher Immanuel Kant, the clear separation between metaphysical arguments about God and
reason-based arguments got reinforced. A basic human challenge, according to Kant, is the gap that exists
between what s the case and what should be the case. But despite all the horrible things that happen in the
world, we have to be convinced that the world, in principle, should work. So, for Kant, evil means not to
follow the moral law within me. Evil means to act against reason, to abuse reason. Since then, we have
developed a clear understanding of good and evil, moral and immoral, as connected to reason. Modernity is
the result of the rise of reason with all its good and bad consequences. We have modeled human behavior
on the basis of our belief in reason as an ideal. In social sciences, what dominates today is the concept of
rational choice and the idea of the homo economicus, the calculating individual decision maker who is
maximizing his or her own utility. Evil is the result of conscious decisions. It is the result of intentions. It is
driven by doubtful motivations. Reason is, at the same time, the driver and the cure of evil. So reason
drives us towards the dark side, but it helps us to cure ourselves and protect ourselves against it.
Let us jump to the 20th century. What response was for the belief and the link between cosmos and polis, it
got destroyed. Auschwitz was for our belief in the power of reason. Up to 3 million people died in Auschwitz.
And Auschwitz raised doubts about the sense we apply moral categories to human decisions, explaining it as
a deviation from reason. Auschwitz was not an event where reason was absent. It was, in effect, the result of
a careful application of reason and science. Evil is closer to good application of reason in the sense of Kant
than we want to believe. Individual intentions and the magnitude of evil do no longer connect after
The philosopher Hannah Arendt's conclusion thus is that evil is banal and normal. It does not need bad
intentions, as in Kant's view. It does not need a demonic dimension. It spreads, as she says, like a fungus on
the surface. The 20th century saw two immense wars fought with the best scientific knowledge available. It
saw two repressive political systems, fascism and communism, responsible for millions of death. It comes as
no surprise that the postwar intellectual debates show a deep skepticism regarding the role of reason in
human decision making.

Postmodern philosophy radically breaks with the idea of reason-based progress in human history. Evil is not
the opposite of reason anymore, not the opposite of progress. It gets intensified with reason and progress.
Postwar researchers became interested in the social conditions that promote evil. Writers like George Orwell
in his dystopian novel 1984 describes how repressive contexts keep people in check and determine what
they do and think.
Psychologists like Asch, Milgram, and Zimbardo started to examine various aspects of contextual forces that
drive evil. This is where our course takes its start. While we do not deny the existence of intentional and
reason-based unethical decisions, we assume that most evil does not result from who we are, but rather
from the context in which we are embedded. Many things might happen not because of who were are,
but despite of who we are. We thus need a better understand of context-driven evil.
To conclude this first session, in the premodern understanding, evil is the result of the fall of man. Our
suffering is the punishment of God. After Lisbon, evil gets disconnected from theology and gets analyzed as a
social phenomenon. Evil in its modern conception is a deviation from reason. After Auschwitz, evil gets
disconnected even from reason. The analysis of evil starts to focus on the context in which decisions occur.

Video 3
Welcome to this third video of first week of our course on Unethical Decision Making. In our last session, we
had a look at the dark side of the force and we discussed how the concept of evil developed in human
history. In this video today, we will focus on the bright side of the force and we will see how moral
philosophy might help us to fight against the dark side. So the main goals in our session are, that you will
learn about the links between ethics and decision making. You will understand the idea of an ethical
dilemma. And you will meet the two main concepts of moral philosophy that offer us some help in solving
dilemma situations.
Life in former times was much easier. Societies were homogeneous, people shared more or less the same
values, the same traditions. They were embedded in the same kind of context, so they were more or less
cruising on autopilot when they were making decisions. The back side of this kind of context is, of course,
that there was no real freedom.
Modern society, in contrast, is pluralistic, is heterogeneous. The rules of the game are very often unclear. In
addition, we are going through a time of high-speed change, high-speed transformation. We are facing
innovations in information technology and globalization. We are drowning in data and we have difficulties to
make sense of them. If you combine these observations, so, unclear rules of the game, because of
heterogeneity, growing speed of decision-making, information overload. It is obvious why ethical questions
become more important. The traditions and routines that we have developed over time, they lose their
power to give us orientation.
So, the solutions we learned and the problems we face no longer fit. We're in the middle of a crisis of
orientation. So what? We could ask why should we need shared ideas, why should we need shared
understandings of what is right or wrong, or good or bad? There are two answers that have been given by
moral philosophers, that are interesting to us. The first answer comes from Thomas Hobbes, a philosopher
of the 16th century. He's asking us to imagine a world in which there are no rules, in which everyone can do
what he or she wants to do. He calls this the state of nature. There are limited resources, but unlimited
desires to possess those resources. So what will happen? According to Thomas Hobbes, we will fight for
these resources because there are no rules of the game. There will be violence. There will be fear. So, the
whole society will be highly unstable. How do we get out of that situation? Well, we make a contract with
each other in which we renounce on some of our liberties and what we get for that is stability and peace.
So, there are two ways basically of organizing society. One is violence, so domination of the strongest. The
second one is rules. This is the first reason why we need shared understandings of good and bad, at least
to a certain degree.
The second answer comes from David Hume a philosopher who lived roughly one century later than Thomas
Hobbes. According to him, the reason why we should engage in shared rule making is that we need
cooperation. Because through corporation we can increase the pie that we get out of these limited
resources. But if we want to cooperate, we need trust. If we want to trust each other, we need to be able to
rely on each other, which means we need to rely on the idea that the others follow the same rules that I
do. So there are two reasons for having rules in a society, avoiding violence and increasing cooperation.

This is also true for organizations, in particular, in a situation like ours in a crisis of orientation. In
homogenous societies, right or wrong are pretty clear. In heterogeneous societies, many decisions hang
between right and wrong. They are in the gray area. When we talk about ethics, at least in our course here,
we mainly refer to situations in which we make decisions in that gray area.
The space between clearly good, clearly bad, clearly right, clearly wrong, it's the space of uncertainty. It is
unclear which decision is appropriate unless we have thought it through carefully. We call these situations,
these decisions, dilemmas. So, a dilemma is a situation which a decision has to be made and there are two
or more options on the table, and each of them look similar right and wrong. But we have to make a
decision nonetheless. Whatever we decide, we might have to violate some of our deepest values, or the
values of others, or the interests of others.
Let me give you an example of what a dilemma situation might mean in the context of an organization. You
are the district manager of a big insurance company. One member of your team, Claire, is a very popular and
successful sales-woman. Due to the serious illness of her daughter Anna, her sales figures went down
sharply. Your own boss already told you that it, it is harming your own career if your team does not reach its
sales targets. Jean-Paul Sartre called this kind of situations, situations where we have to make our hands
dirty because whatever we decide, it will be right and wrong at the same time.
Ethical decision is basically about deciding how much degree of dirt we allow on our hands. Ethics is rarely
about clean hands because if it's values against values, something has to be done at the expense of
something else.
So, for our course, what's interesting is, how do we operate in these zones of gray where there's
ambivalence around decision making. In a dilemma, we have to choose between values, principles and
objectives that are all more or less equally important to us. But we cannot enact all of them at the same
time. However, there are shades of gray, so decisions can be closer to the dark and closer to the light side.
And looking back at, back at the case that we right, now saw, the case of Claire, you are now about to decide
whether or not to fire Claire. And this seems to be a case of a decision in such a gray area. How to make a
good decision in such a dilemma? Let's assume for the sake of the argument that there are two options on
the table. Fire Claire and replace her through someone else. Keeping Claire and motivating, motivating the
others to work more to compensate for the loss that she brings. Once the options are on the table, what we
have to do is we have to evaluate the moral quality of the options.
What are the values at stake that collide here? For the option of firing Claire the ethical dimension is that we
would have to punish her for something that is clearly not under control, her daughter's illness. She has been
reliable and successful so far. You might think that you owe Clare some loyalty. Firing her would be unfair.
What about not firing Clare? Well, in this case, the other team members have to work more. You increase
the pressure on them. You increase their stress for reasons, again, that have nothing to do with their
performance. It would be unfair towards the team. This is a clash of duties towards Claire and towards the
team, a clash between what you owe the individual team member and the team at large. And whatever you
decide, you will violate some of those values that are important for you and for the others.
There is no clear right and wrong in such a situation. Even if decisions are placed in the gray area between
right and wrong, it does not follow that we can make blind or random decisions. The bigger the dilemma,
the higher our duties to think through the situation, to use our brain to make a thoughtful and reasonbased decision. But how?

We don't have the time here to summarize the last 2,000 years of moral philosophy, but let me just pick two
theories that have been dominating our thinking at least in Europe and in the U.S.A., the duty ethics of
Immanuel Kant and the utilitarian ethics of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.
Immanuel Kant gives us a simple rule for making decisions. Ask yourself, can I wish that what I want to do
becomes a rule for everyone? So, can I universalize my decision? Kant called this the categorical imperative.
If I can universalize a decision, then I have to do it. If I cannot wish that everyone else does it, I should not
do it. In his own words, we should act only according to the maxim whereby you can at the same time will
that it should become a universal law without contradiction. I'm, if I might achieve what I want to achieve by
lying, I should ask myself, can I wish that everyone who wants to achieve something has the right to lie?
Can I turn this into a rule for everyone? The answer's clearly no, I cannot. But if I wish, if I cannot wish that
lying becomes a rule for everyone, I should not lie. Similar mood, I should not kill, I should not steal.
Regardless of the consequences, this is important for the Kantian approach, regardless of the
And this is where the Utilitarian ethics steps in and finds this counterintuitive. Jeremy Bentham, who was
the first to think this through, he argues that a decision, whether it is right and wrong, should depend on
the consequences. The best decision is the one, according to Utilitarian ethics, that brings the greatest
benefit to the greatest number of people.
So whenever we make a decision, we should ask ourselves who is affected by that decision. How are these
persons affected? Is this effect strong or weak? Is it in the near future or far away? And then we use all these
factors and we make a utilitarian calculation. And then we decide. So, we see Kant is focusing on the input
of the decision. Utilitarians are focusing on the output of the decision. Which approach is better? Well,
both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. As we said already, the Kantian approach is clearly
counterintuitive when it comes to consequences. It ignores harm that might occur if we do the right thing.
Utilitarians, in contrast, they are willing to sacrifice the well-being of someone if it increases the well-being
of the greatest number. So we can make one person unhappy if it makes most persons happy. So, both
approaches are not perfect, but we do not have to use them to the extremes. For us, they're just two
valuable tools that we can use when we think through decisions. When we are in a dilemma, we might run
the decision we are going to make through both the Kantian approach and the Utilitarian approach. And we
should add, by asking ourselves, an important question. What are my values?
What am I standing for? What is more important to me? If we filter decisions through these three
processes, universalizability, Kant, utility, Utilitarians, my values, then we're making an informed decision.
The challenge here, however, is that all these theories assume that we can step out of our context and take
a kind of objective approach when making decisions, an objective perspective, a point of nowhere from
which we look at ourselves. And this is where the problems start. What if these contexts in which we make
our decision is so strong that we cannot leave it? What if this little fragment of reality that we see becomes
the whole and overwhelming reality, our only universe? What is obvious for others becomes invisible for us.
And our course is exactly about that kind of situation when what is obvious is not visible to you. How do
we make decisions under these conditions?

How do we deal with the fact that the ideal of philosophers very often doesn't fit our real decision making
situations because we are in context that are stronger than reason? In the following session, we will discuss
how re, how context can often switch off the reason that we need to make informed decisions.
So, to summarize our session of today. To conclude, we are increasingly confronted with ethical dilemmas
when we make decisions. And dilemma situations are situated in the grey area between clearly right and
clearly wrong. We have three tools in our tool box, universalizability, utility, and values. But such reason
based decisions are not always possible because we might be embedded in a strong context that switches
off reason.