Research What Are You Reading...On Roleplaying

What Are You Reading…On Roleplaying

This week in my Business Ethics class the students will learn about Utilitarianism and Deontology. In addition to the lectures I’ve prepared, I’ve designed at least two activities for each class. While the activities at the end have them dealing with ethical dilemmas faced by actual businesses (e.g. do emotionally-based ad appeals respect humans as rational beings?), at the beginning of the class students will be doing some well-known ethical roleplay scenarios (Sophie’s Choice for Utilitarianism, the Nazi at your Door scenario for Deontology). For those of you who don’t know, the Sophie’s Choice scenario asks you to put yourself in the position of the main character from the movie Sophie’s Choice, and decide whether you would make the same decision she did. The Nazi at your Door scenario asks you to think about whether it is ethical to lie if, during the Holocaust, you were hiding Jews in your house and Nazi officers came to your door to ask about them.

Preparing these activities got me thinking about how helpful roleplaying can be for many purposes. Whether it is relaxing/enjoyable (Dungeons & Dragons), educational (practicing CPR on dummies), or for safety (fire drills), roleplaying is a big part of our society. Part of its appeal is its connection to imagination, as very little change would happen if we could not see ourselves different than we are now. Acting out our visions of the future undoubtedly helps us to ‘try on’ our ideals, seeing if they will actually fit with the rest of our life. Perhaps some of the failed utopias of the past would have had more success had they had access to roleplaying. Similarly, all of us would do well to roleplay our dreams for ourselves, our friends, and society.  Here are some papers that will help us understand how we can employ roleplaying more efficiently.


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  1. Very interesting concept, but your ignorance in one area is definitely betrayed: “ethical dilemmas faced by actual businesses” re: “emotionally-based ad appeals”.

    Clearly, you’ve NEVER taken an MBA level marketing course. Merely the suggestion of such a topic would be regarded by most professors as a sign of profound ignorance. In their view, marketing is all about discovering new ways to meet human needs and wants for the profitable betterment of everyone.

    In the last text I used, the ethical conflict of interest to emotionally manipulate through propaganda independent of facts received a total of 2 sentences on the next to the last page of approx. 600 pages.

    I would guess there are some cases of actual ethical concerns, but suspect these are very (add a few more very’s) rare. I’ve had trouble getting traction for even consideration of professional ethics standards that prohibit society members from participating in WMD and torture facility projects which might offend war industry corporations who provide substantially lucrative support.

    I am curious about your examples, can you share?

    • Dear Buck,

      Thanks for your comment. I think there is a semantic difference between what I meant and what you read. I didn’t mean to imply that companies wrestle with whether their emotionally-based appeals are ethical (I’m quite aware they don’t); rather, my use of the term “dilemmas faced by actual businesses” was meant to indicate that the activity will have students evaluating ethical choices made by contemporary companies (and I would argue such choices have ethical dimensions, even if companies ignore them).

      Since I’m teaching in China this semester my examples would not translate well to the English speaking world, but perhaps my method will. What I did was find examples of advertisements (I’m using billboard and magazine ads, but videos could work well too) for major products. I’m having the students look at the ads to identify the number of facts mentioned in them. Then, the students will think about whether they could make an informed, rational choice about the product based solely on the information contained in the ad. The will be practicing deontology, so they will be considering whether the ads are treating people as means or ends, and whether an ethical society built on good will can exist if these types of appeals are universalized.

      I admit that I am new to teaching business ethics, and would love to hear your thoughts. Do you have any comments on this activity, or any activities of your own you’d like to share?

      • I have to wonder if any of the students begin the exercise believing they could make an informed, rational choice about any product based solely on the information contained in an ad for it.

        It seems a good idea for students to develop a clear understanding. Obviously in the commercial world, that answer is no, while the most effective companies must maximize “yes” perceptions. Typically this is accomplished by emotional manipulation.

        I would be happy to develop a suggestion or two, with a better understanding of the goals. The possibility of an ethical society built on good will, given universalized advertising seems highly unlikely. OTOH, asserting something as completely not possible is usually a mistake…

        What ability do we want students to possess after the activity?


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