Course Syllabus

Welcome to PHIL 119: Ethical Leadership


Credits 3
Prerequisites None
Delivery Web (Canvas,
Dates See the Calendar.
Instructor See the Orientation module under the Modules tab.


“He that outlives this day and comes safe home will stand o’ tiptoe when this day is named."
                                                                                     - -Shakespeare (Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3)

In politics, business, education, and society more generally we depend on leaders not only for their special expertise, but also for their integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness. Leaders are called upon to distribute important resources and to make difficult decisions on behalf of others, so we expect our leaders to be fair and just. Leaders also influence the conduct of others as they set examples for their followers. We expect our leaders to lead ethically and to encourage ethical conduct in others. A leader should be able to identify ethical challenges, be capable of analyzing them and imagining possible solutions, and be motivated to do the ethically right thing. In other words, we expect our leaders to possess a high degree of moral literacy. Many of you will hold leadership positions at some point. One of the main goals of this course is to assist you in responding to ethically challenging leadership situations by introducing you to the framework of moral literacy and helping you to develop the capacities it involves. After introductory lessons on Moral Literacy, you will hone the skills it involves through engaging with philosophical texts that articulate ethical theories, with literary texts that present ethical challenges, and with contemporary discussions that bear on ethics and leadership in our own contexts.

In this course, we will look at a number of very different texts: some are classics of moral philosophy, some are dramatic depictions of leaders in action, and some are modern examples of both good and bad leadership. Throughout, I invite you to draw parallels between fictional examples, modern cases of ethical leadership and the philosophical theories we have studied. The main goals of the course are as follows:

  1. Learn how to identify, analyze and respond to challenging situations in an ethical way. 
  2. Learn some of the main ethical theories and apply them to resolve ethical dilemmas in leadership cases in various disciplines. 
  3. Engage in critical and respectful discussion with your peers on the basics of effective and ethical leadership.
  4. Integrate a practice of moral literacy and ethical leadership in your own life.

Hopefully, this course will be more than an academic exercise: my goal is to confront you with serious issues that you will face both in and out of the classroom. Ultimately, I hope that it will help to make you more thoughtful, more effective, and more human leaders and followers.


At the end of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Moral Literacy: Students will learn a certain set of skills to help them identify, analyze and respond to ethically challenging situations.
  2. Ethics Content: Students will learn several key concepts and ideas in ethics. In addition to learning the main ethical theories, students will also engage in discussions of plausibility of these theories.
  3. Ethical Leadership Content: Students will work on cases of modern ethical leadership in various disciplines and apply their skills of moral literacy and knowledge of ethics to discuss these cases.
  4. Critical Reading, Thinking, & Reasoning Skills: Students will learn to critically read and interpret philosophical texts. They will gain critical reasoning skills by assessing the quality of arguments in terms of their validity, strength, cogency, soundness, etc.
  5. Dialogue & Formal Expression: As most issues in ethics tend to be controversial and emotionally charged, students will develop their ability to engage in respectful conversation with others. Students will thus be encouraged to formulate their views on ethical issues by providing reasons for their position and criticizing alternatives by objecting to the arguments supporting these positions.
  6. Articulation & Writing Skills: Students will develop the capacity to respond to various arguments concerning ethical leadership in a rigorous and articulate way. They will learn how to summarize issues in ethical leadership in a succinct, charitable, and illustrative way and learn how to critically respond to arguments by raising objections and supporting their views with reasons.


This course is divided into 15 lessons. Each lesson will include some combination of primary and secondary readings, discussions, video lectures, film, or writing assignments. The specific content and deadlines for each lesson is included on the course schedule.

Online Learning and Attendance

This course has been developed to promote asynchronous learning. The instructor and students do NOT meet on a designated day and time each week. For each lesson, there is a timeframe to complete all activities and assignments, and you may work at your own pace within that timeframe. However, you must adhere to the due dates outlined on the Calendar. (Due dates can also be viewed under the Syllabus tab.) You should log into the course daily to check for updates, review lessons, and participate in activities.

"It is best to be both feared and loved; however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved."
                                                                                                                            -Niccolò Machiavelli, (The Prince)

Texts and Other Materials

The following seven texts provided for you in Canvas

  1. Plato, Republic
  2. Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals
  3. Mill, Utilitarianism
  4. Machiavelli, The Prince
  5. Shakespeare, Henry V
  6. Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis
  7. Plato, Apology


Library Services

Penn State Libraries provides a wide variety of services and resources. To learn how to take advantage, refer to the Online Student Library Guide (Links to an external site.) at This guide serves as your starting point for access to all that Penn State Libraries can offer you as an online student. Use this guide if you have questions on library services offered to you, how the library can help you, how to use the library, or what resources you can access via the library! The guide will connect you to important pages and resources within Penn State Libraries and save time from you searching for the information you need.


Final letter grades will be assigned based on the scale below.


A 95
A- 90
B+ 88
B 82
B- 80
C+ 78
C 70
D 60
F 0

Due Dates

All assignments are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on the date indicated on the Calendar. (Due dates can be also be viewed under the Syllabus tab.) Please be aware that Canvas follows the Eastern Time (ET) time zone. Assignment due dates adhere to this time zone, and it is your responsibility to submit assignments accordingly. If you are outside of the ET time zone, you can set your Canvas account to sync to it. Refer to the Set a Time Zone article in the Canvas Guide (Links to an external site.) at

As a general rule, you will NOT be able to go back and make up missed assignments. It is your responsibility to keep up with your assignments. Students with an excused absence (e.g. hospitalization, jury duty, family emergency, or military service) may be asked to produce proper documentation in order to make up graded work. All make-up work is at the discretion of the instructor.

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g. upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.


  • To Do List: Some assignments may not appear in the To Do list under the Home tab. Use the Calendar or Syllabus to ensure that you are fully aware of assignment due dates.
  • Late Assignments: Late assignments will not be accepted.


Basic information about each assignment group is provided below. For detailed directions about an individual assignment, see the assignment information under the Modules tab.

You can expect meaningful feedback on assignments within 1 week of their due date.

Quizzes  15%
Blogs   15%
Response Paper   15%
Discussions   20%
Final Paper Proposal   10%
Final Paper   25%
Total  100%


Value: 3 x 5 pts for 15% of Grade

Announced quizzes will test only your reading comprehension and your understanding of basic ideas in the text. Quizzes will consist of 5 multiple choice questions each. You will have 10 minutes to complete the quiz and you will have to do it all in one sitting: you cannot save your work and come back to it. 


Value: 6 x 15 pts for 15% of Grade

Over the course of the term you will complete a course blog comprised of 6 entries, each entry of which is a brief (approximately 250 - 350 word) answer to the questions/prompts specified for the blog. You are also required to respond to one classmates’ blog post. By the end of the course, you will have made 12 posts in total: 6 original blog posts and 6 responses to your classmates’ blog posts. The purpose of this blog is to develop the ability to understand the importance of making ethical decisions in the area of ethical leadership by looking at how ethical decisions influence social, political and cultural life in the world. Blog posts aim at helping students cultivate the core skills of moral literacy and ethical leadership (identifying, analyzing and responding to challenging situations in the domain), by engaging you in current real life ethical leadership cases and examples. 

Guide for Student Blog Posts
Discussions will be centered on one of four types of scenarios:

Ethics Sensitivity: Discussions and post will focus on identifying possible challenges and invite discussion about the ethical intensity of the situation.

Ethical Reasoning: Discussions and posts will focus on consequences, duties, and/or character would lead us to make judgments about the rightness or wrongness of certain leadership decisions

Moral Imagination: Discussion and posts will focus on imagining possible courses of action and reflecting on how well each potential course of action would fare according to ethical standards.

Moral Motivation: Discussions and posts will focus on the difficulties involved in following a course of action once it has been identified as the ethically right/best option, and reflect on how someone might work to overcome these difficulties.

An ideal blog post would demonstrate ethical literacy by calling attention to some ethical challenge or challenges that people face in leadership contexts and beginning to address the 6 significance of these challenges in a way that invites commentary and further discussion. In some cases, we might simply be identifying possible challenges and inviting discussion about the ethical intensity of the situation (ethics sensitivity). In other cases, we might offer some suggestions concerning how a focus on consequences, on duties, and/or on character would lead us to make judgments about the rightness or wrongness of certain leadership decisions (ethical reasoning). Some other cases may have us imagining possible courses of action and reflecting on how well each would fare according to ethical standards (moral imagination). We might also want to discuss the difficulties involved in following a course of action once it has been identified as the ethically right/best option, and reflect on how someone might work to overcome these difficulties (moral motivation). The post should make it clear to the reader which of these things the post's author is attempting to do, how they will do it, why it is something that the reader should be interested in, and where further information or other viewpoints might help move the discussion forward.

You must turn in your blog entries when they are due, or you will not receive credit!

Grading Rubric for New Blog Posts





Structure/Format/Mechanics: The new blog post meets all the requirements concerning length, use of appropriate language, grammar and outside resources  especially current ones etc. The blog is also organized, well-edited, clear and concise. 



Content: The new blog post answers the question presented in the prompt and discusses it in a way that shows significant engagement with the moral literacy lessons and other course material.



Ethical Reasoning: The new blog post presents insightful comments on the challenges the dilemma presents and how to overcome them. It also provides some resources and ideas/questions for further discussion.   





Grading Rubric for Response Blog Posts





Structure/Format/Mechanics: The response blog post meets all the requirements concerning length, use of appropriate language, grammar and outside resources especially current ones etc. The blog is also organized, well-edited, clear and concise. 



Content: The response blog post extends the discussion in new directions. It goes beyond affirming/denying what has been stated in the post. It also uses references to literature, readings, and personal experiences.  





Response Paper

Value: 1 x 15 pts. for 15% of grade

You are required to complete 1 response paper for this course. There are 7 person/topics from which you will choose 1. You will choose your person/topic in Lesson 2 using the Response Paper Sign Up Sheet. The response paper, is a longer (800 - 1200 word) analysis of some particular element of our reading as it relates to the course. The response paper can be an analysis of some particular element of the text, a comparison to some other text or thinker, or an analysis of how the text fits into the broad topic of ethical leadership. Be sure to make direct reference to the text and do more than just summarize the reading.


Value: 10 x 2 pts for 20% of Grade

Scheduled discussions allow you to demonstrate your knowledge of a particular topic, refine your ideas, and interact with your colleagues. Your participation in these scheduled discussions will be rated on a pass/fail basis. You will be judged on the relevance to ongoing discussions, the sophistication of your inquiry or answer, and the quality of your expression.
For each discussion, you must post at least one original comment on the discussion topic (or you may introduce a new topic if it pertains to the reading) and at least one response to the posting of a fellow student or your instructor. Your first post must be posted by Sunday, and your second by Tuesday, at 11:59 pm Eastern Time.

Instructor’s Discussion Board/Forum Policies
Try to think of discussion boards as an extension of your real-life classroom. 

Communicating through writing is different than communicating orally. These pointers cover common issues that may help to convey your ideas more clearly and prevent misunderstandings. While the instructor will occasionally post to the forums, they are primarily for discussion among students, so don't rely on the instructor to guide the discussion.

  • For complex posts, try composing in Word, edit, and then copy/paste into Canvas
  • Try to keep related ideas organized under separate threads. 
    • If you’d like to express a new idea in a particular discussion board, create a new reply. The title of your reply should be a brief phrase which summarizes your post.
    • If you are replying to someone else’s post, “Reply.” to that posting. Do not create a new thread. 
  •  Very often people will read postings on a discussion board but not make a reply if it is not required of them. Sometimes students become upset when they see that their post has been read but with no replies. Please do not feel offended. 
  • Also, do not feel obligated to respond to a post if you feel it does not require a response. Excessive posts that contain no essential new ideas may create more work for everyone. 
  • Please remember that not everyone comes from the same background, or shares the same values and ideals as you. 
  • Please be appropriate, professional, and considerate of others. 
  • Your “tone” is a very important part of electronic communication. If you are unsure of your tone, try reading your discussion board post out loud before you submit it.
    • When you read it out loud, does it sound the way you would speak to another student in the classroom? 
  • The point of the discussion board is to share ideas among your classmates, not to prove that you are right and they are wrong. 
  • Differences of opinion are going to occur in any forum, and your goal should be simply to convey your ideas as clearly as possible. 
  • If you wish to convey a humorous tone in your discussion board post, try using emoticons (☺), add comments like “Just kidding!” Do not use slang. 
  • If you find something on the discussion board that strikes you as upsetting or unacceptable, please be sure to let your instructor know about it as soon as possible. 
    • Very often, the author of the material does not realize how their words “sound” to you. 
    • Dealing with such issues in a straight-forward manner offers a growth opportunity and should be facilitated by the instructor. 
    • Not dealing with them will undermine group process. 
  • The instructor has the right to remove any discussions that are not appropriate or offend another student. Any student who posts an inappropriate of offensive response will be blocked from participating in the discussion board and will receive an F for that assignment. Students are also subject to classroom behavior and conduct policies in the student code of conduct.

Final Paper Project

Value: 1 for 35% of grade

Your final paper for this course will consist of two pieces.

The ‘Proposal’ is worth 10% of your final grade and
The Paper itself worth 25% of your final grade. The rationale and details follow below.

1. Final Paper Proposal (10% of the final grade)
You will submit a proposal for your final paper: this will include a brief statement of the topic you wish to research; no fewer than 3 proposed sources (at least 2 of which must be print (i.e. non internet) sources, and a statement of how your project relates to the course. These will receive feedback if necessary, but will not be given a letter grade. If you submit an acceptable proposal, you will receive full credit.

Final Paper Assignment (25% of the final grade)
Your final paper will consist of a research project of your choice concerning the topic of ethics in leadership. You will find suggestions for paper topics below and in the assignment drop box, but you are not bound by the suggestions given. You will have considerable latitude in your choice of a topic, but as examples you may:

a) Write a paper outlining the ramifications for questions of leadership of some particular thinker, and comparing that thinker’s position to one or more of the theories put forward in the class.
b) Write a paper on a specific problem of ethical leadership, such as environmental issues, shareholder or stakeholder responsibility, regulatory relationships or sexual harassment or discrimination.
c) Write a paper on the problems of ethical leadership in some particular field, such as education, politics, the military, religion, or the sciences.

Your paper should be 1800 - 2400 words and conform to scholarly standards of style and documentation. You may use APA or MLA format for citations, but remain consistent throughout.

Note on Feedback
Your instructor will reply to your questions, concerns, and comments in a timely manner, not to exceed two business days. Sometimes the response will be “I will get back to you later” if the matter is not urgent. Do not expect a reply before the allotted time has elapsed. The “General Questions” or “Technical Help” message boards should be the first recourse for communicating specific questions or problems. Students are encouraged to respond to the problems and questions posted by their peers. When corresponding with your instructor or classmates, please use appropriate language and etiquette. Email correspondence should be free of grammatical and mechanical errors. Email slang and lingo is not appropriate in any type of instructional setting. You can expect meaningful feedback on all written assignments within two weeks of the deadline. 

"Power…is often very quiet." -Genesis P-Orridge

Additional Comments

This will be a very intensive course. The demands on you will be very high. Some of the readings are quite difficult, although I’ve tried to keep their length to a minimum. As I have noted above, I do expect you to keep up with the readings. Do not rely on video lectures or discussions to be a substitute for reading the assignments.
If you have specific problems or requirements, please, by all means, talk to me. The best way to contact me is via E-mail.

University Policies

Academic Integrity

Penn State defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. All students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts (Faculty Senate Policy 49- 20). Please note, if you are suspected of academic misconduct, you will not be permitted to drop the course until those suspicions are dropped. If you drop the course before that time, you will be returned to the course and you may not have an opportunity to make-up missed work.

Students are responsible for maintaining academic integrity. Violations include cheating on exams or CANVAS quizzes, talking to others during an exam or CANVAS quiz, getting help from others on CANVAS quizzes, having notes accessible during exams, looking at another student’s answers during an exam or CANVAS quiz, removing exams from the classroom without consent from the instructor, plagiarizing, and dishonesty in any aspect of course participation. Violations of academic integrity may result in a grade of F for the course as well as other penalties (see Faculty Senate Policy 49-20).

When you write papers, remember the ABCs to avoid plagiarism: Always place copied information within quotation marks, include information about the quoted or paraphrased source in a Bibliography, and Cite the source in the body (in the text) of your paper immediately after the quoted or paraphrased information. When in doubt, cite in the text and include the source in a bibliography.

Please note that several note-taking/note-sharing companies approach students about “jobs” (including “jobs” that appear to be connected to PSU). If this is something that you want to do, you MUST talk with the instructor first. You may not share, upload, post, or send any information from this course (including notes and assignments) without the permission of the instructor. This includes on-line note-taking/note-sharing services (see Penn State Administrative Policy AD-40). Unless you have the permission of the instructor, you risk academic sanctions related to charges of plagiarism as well as disciplinary sanctions.

Disability Access

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for every Penn State campus at For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website at

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation described at If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Penn State's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office offers residential and distance-based Penn State students non-emergency mental health services in the form of case management, community resource referrals, supportive listening, care giver support, and much more.

Students may request assistance from CAPS regarding a variety of common mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, and stress. CAPS services are designed to enhance students' ability to fully benefit from the University environment and academic experience. Call CAPS at 814-863-0395 (8 am-5 pm, Monday-Friday EST) or submit an inquiry online at to schedule an appointment with a mental health advocate, who can help you address mental health concerns that may interfere with your academic progress or social development. This appointment will include a one-on-one session that can be conducted via telephone, teleconference (Skype, FaceTime, etc.), or locally at Penn State University Park. For more information on services provided through CAPS, please visit the Penn State CAPS website at Students enrolled at the World Campus are also encouraged to visit its Mental Health Services page at

Reminder: These services are for non-emergencies only. If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis situation, please call your local crisis center or 911.


Penn State is committed to equal access to programs, facilities, admission and employment for all persons. It is the policy of the University to maintain an environment free of harassment and free of discrimination against any person because of age, race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, creed, service in the uniformed services (as defined in state and federal law), veteran status, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, pregnancy, pregnancy-related conditions, physical or mental disability, gender, perceived gender, gender identity, genetic information or political ideas. Discriminatory conduct and harassment, as well as sexual misconduct and relationship violence, violates the dignity of individuals, impedes the realization of the University's educational mission, and will not be tolerated. For further information, please visit the Affirmative Action Office website at

Report a Bias Incident

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage at


The materials on the course website are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated.

University Emergency Procedure

In the event of a University-wide emergency, the course may be subject to changes. Exigent circumstances may require alternative delivery methods, class materials, and interactions with the instructor and/or classmates. In addition, there may be revisions to grading policies and the Calendar, including assignments and their due dates.

In the event of a University-wide emergency, please refer to the Canvas website at for specific information related to the course. For more general information about the emergency situation, please refer to the Penn State website at or Penn State News website at

To register with PSUAlert, a service designed to alert the Penn State community when situations arise that affect the ability of a campus to function normally, please go to the PSU Alert website at Subscribers can receive alerts by text message to cell phones, and also can elect to have alerts sent to an email address.

Syllabus Subject to Change

The class will likely adhere to the information outlined in this Syllabus and the Calendar, but adjustments may be made based on what actually transpires during the semester. Remaining in the course after reading this Syllabus will signal that you accept the possibility of changes and responsibility for being aware of them.

Course Summary:

Date Details