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Demonstrating Course Competencies: Ethics and Social Organization

you will demonstrate your proficiency in the following course competencies:

  • Competency 1: Explain the nature of ethical issues.
    • Explain the ethical basis for the relation of individuals to their government.
  • Competency 2: Critically examine the contributions of key thinkers from the history of ethics.
    • Describe the social contract theories of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.
  • Competency 3: Engage in ethical debate.
    • Assess the advantages and disadvantages of these theories as they relate to a selected issue.
  • Competency 4: Develop a position on a contemporary ethical issue.
    • Apply traditional social contract theories to a selected contemporary issue.
  • Competency 5: Communicate effectively in the context of personal and professional moral discourse.
    • Communicate in a manner that is scholarly, professional, and consistent with expectations for members of professional communities.
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Another dose of ethical theory, focused this time on social organization. Several political philosophers have explained the foundation of governmental authority in terms of a fictional social contract:

  • Hobbes
    • Individuals are purely selfish, so they naturally exist in a state of war with all
    • In self-defense, we join together under the authority of a sovereign who rules
  • Locke
    • In nature, rational agents have equal right to enforce the natural law
    • For protection of “life, liberty, and property” we consent to be governed
    • (Notice the influence of this approach on founders of the United States.)
  • Rousseau
    • We are born free, so any agreement to join together is purely voluntary
    • Each individual freely chooses to serve the “general will,” the welfare of all
  • Authoritarian: absolute power in a single dictator who imposes power over everyone
  • Elitist: a small group rules for all, based on birth family, wealth, or merit
  • Democratic: everyone participates in governance, usually by electing representatives

Under any form of government, the fundamental question is how much freedom individual citizens retain in the face of legitimate authority. If we accept the need for some protection of the public good, we must submit in some circumstances, but each of us wishes to pursue our own choices within that broad framework.

With respect for justice, we allow the law to prevent us from harming each other, but otherwise we like to be left alone.

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To deepen your understanding, you are encouraged to consider the questions below and discuss them with a fellow learner, a work associate, an interested friend, or a member of the business community.

As you think about the theme "freedom and authority," consider addressing the following questions:

  • Which version of social contract theory offers the best understanding of your issue?
  • How much individual freedom is compatible with the legitimate authority of government?
  • What solution do you defend for the issue you have selected?

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