Universität Wien
Achtung! Das Lehrangebot ist noch nicht vollständig und wird bis Semesterbeginn laufend ergänzt.

180040 SE Ethics and Profit: A History of Ideas (2023S)

5.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 18 - Philosophie
Prüfungsimmanente Lehrveranstaltung


Hinweis: Ihr Anmeldezeitpunkt innerhalb der Frist hat keine Auswirkungen auf die Platzvergabe (kein "first come, first served").


max. 30 Teilnehmer*innen
Sprache: Englisch


Termine (iCal) - nächster Termin ist mit N markiert

To allow for optimum use of the limited seminar places, if there is a waiting list, then students who do not attend the first seminar session without notification of the lecturer will automatically be de-registered to make space for students on the waiting list.
If you have registered and cannot make it to the first session, but intend to follow this seminar, then please email felix.pinkert@univie.ac.at ahead of the session to keep your place.

The seminar is planned as an onsite seminar and will follow the current pubic health guidelines and university recommendations. Moreover, irrespective of official requirements, if individual students request that masks be worn, then I will ask everyone to please wear a mask in class. Students who wish to make such a request, e.g. due to personal health concerns, can do so confidentially, by emailing the lecturer.

Enrolled students should please consult Moodle for the week-by-week plan of this seminar, as well as any schedule changes.

  • Donnerstag 02.03. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 09.03. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 16.03. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 23.03. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 30.03. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 20.04. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 27.04. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 04.05. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 11.05. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 25.05. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 01.06. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 15.06. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 22.06. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
  • Donnerstag 29.06. 15:00 - 16:30 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock


Ziele, Inhalte und Methode der Lehrveranstaltung

Traders make profit by buying products cheaply and selling them more expensively. Capitalists make profit by employing labourers and selling the fruit of their labour for more than the wages paid to the worker. Workers try to get the most money for their work, and consumers go bargain-hunting to spend as little as possible for the goods they buy.

But when, if at all, is it appropriate to thus profit from, or even on the back of, our fellow human beings? When does someone profit unfairly, or just plain too much? Are some forms of profit perhaps to be shunned altogether, or should profit-seeking be encouraged, so as to generate a societal benefit?

In this seminar, we approach these very much contemporary ethical questions about profit-seeking by studying historical texts on these questions from the body of Western philosophical and theological thought. The aim of this seminar is to understand the philosophical issues at stake in these questions, to understand and critically appraise a range of different ethical positions that may be partly alien to us, and to lay the foundations for formulating and defending our own answers to ethical questions about profit-seeking that we encounter today. While the seminar studies historical texts, its approach is largely systematic: Rather than doing source critique and detailed historical investigations, we take the historical texts at face value and try to understand their contribution to a systematic inquiry into the ethics of profit-seeking.

List of topics (subject to change):
- Plato Against the Merchant
- Aristotle on types of exchange and profit
- Jerome against wealth, Cicero on profit and fellow-feeling
- Augustine and Aquinas on justified profits from trade
- John Wesley and Josef Butler: A protestant twist on the profit motive
- Bernard Mandeville and Adam Smith: Private profit, social benefit
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Charles Fourier: Early socialist criticism of the profit motive
- Karl Marx: The capitalist's profit
- Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin: Altruistic motivation as part of evolved human nature
- Ayn Rand and Jean Hampton: In defense of self-interest
- Milton Friedman: The duty to make profit
- Stephanie Collins and Luara Ferracioli: The profit motive in the care sector
- Gerald Cohen (and John Rawls): Demanding profit to serve the common good
- William MacAskill: Earning to give

After successful completion of the seminar, you will be able to
- explain key historical positions in the morality of profit in your own words in speaking and writing,
- contextualise contemporary ethical questions in the context of the historical texts we studies, identifying relevant historical texts and using these to increase your understanding of the contemporary questions,
- reconstruct and critically evaluate arguments from historical and contemporary texts, in speaking and writing,
- position yourself with regard to selected questions about the ethics of profit-seeking.

The seminar is taught and assessed in English, and will feature extensive small group discussions which require everyone's preparation and contribution to succeed. In preparation of each seminar, you will read the assigned core text and complete some short preparatory reading tasks and other research exercises on Moodle.

Prerequisites: Open for MA-level students of all disciplines.
Economics: Willingness to engage with concepts and ideas from contemporary economics is required. Prior knowledge of economics is an asset, but not required. Relevant economic concepts and ideas will be explained in class where needed.
Ethics: Willingness to read longer historical texts of different genres is required. No prior experience of such readings is required, but if you are not yet experienced in reading historical texts, please budget in additional class preparation time. Experience in philosophical ethics is an asset, but not required.

Art der Leistungskontrolle und erlaubte Hilfsmittel

The seminar is assessed through four components:

1) Weekly tasks. These are marked for completeness, not for correctness: what matters here is that you have seriously thought about the tasks and prepared for the seminar. Weight: 25%. Deadline: Each teaching week 09:30 on the day of the seminar. Because the tasks are essential preparation /before/ the seminar, tasks that are late without authorisation count as not completed.
2) A minimal outline of a proposed final essay. Weight: 5%. Deadline: June 30, 23:59.
3) Peer feedback on one other student's minimal essay outline. Weight: 5%. Deadline: July 31, 2020, 23:59.
4) A final essay of 2500-2700 words (including bibliography and footnotes), on any topic from the seminar. Weight: 65%. Deadline: September 15, 23:59. I will only mark submissions after this deadline, irrespective of how early you submit. However, if you need your final seminar grade earlier than late September, e.g. if you are on an exchange semester, then you can also submit by an optional early submission deadline of June 30, 23:59, and I will then mark your submission shortly after this deadline.

The final essay is to be submitted as pdf file on Moodle, with all identifying information (name, student ID) in the text, file name, and file metadata removed to facilitate anonymous marking.

Except for the weekly tasks, delayed submissions are subject to a penalty of +0.2 marks for each day (24h) of lateness. Extensions can be granted only for reasons outside of your control, e.g. illness. Please contact me via email as soon as possible if an extension is needed.

Use of generative artificial intelligence to produce text is not permitted for assessments 1-3. For the final assessment, if generative AI is used in any step of the writing process, then the student must append to their essay a detailed explanation of how the technology was used. Undeclared use of the technology is not permitted. I reserve the right to request of all students that they come to an oral examination on their final essay, in which I can determine whether they are fully the authors of their submission.

Mindestanforderungen und Beurteilungsmaßstab

Each of the assignments is evaluated on a scale from 1 (“Very Good”) to 5 (“Unsatisfactory”). A positive evaluation requires that you achieve a pass grade (4) in all assessment components, and that you actively attend the seminar. Two unauthorized absences will be excused.

Conditional on fulfilling the necessary requirements just mentioned, the final grade, comprised between 1 (“Very good”) and 4 (“Adequate”), is a rounded weighted average of the separate assessment grades. A failure to achieve a pass grade in one of the necessary requirements yields a 5 ("Insufficient").

By registering for this course/seminar, you tacitly agree to having all your electronic submissions checked by the plagiarism detection software Turnitin.

Detailed assessment criteria for each assignment are posted on Moodle.


You can write your assignments on any topics linked to the seminar themes and texts. You are encouraged to develop your own research topics, and to consult with me on your writing plans.


The reading list is posted on Moodle, and contains selected historical and contemporary texts on the ethics of making profit. See above for an indicative list of authors and topics.

Zuordnung im Vorlesungsverzeichnis

Letzte Änderung: Di 14.03.2023 11:29