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2014 Symposium

Seventh Annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium, April 10-12, 2014

"The ethics symposium at the Prindle Institute sets itself apart from other gatherings like it.  It was one of the most influential, thought-provoking, and truly interdisciplinary gatherings I have been a part of." -Tyler West, Binghampton University

"The Prindle Institute has created an ideal environment for sharing thoughtful discussion and cultivating lasting friendships." -Thomas E. Johnson, Gustavas Adolphus University

The theme of the 2014-2015 Undergraduate Ethics Symposium was "Virtue and Victory: Ethical Challenges in Competitive Life." This theme encompassed a broad range of topics, including the consumer economics and the relationship between morality and the market, ethics in sports and coaching, and issues of economic divide and inequality. Twenty-eight students (nine from DePauw and nineteen from around the country) participated in the seventh annual symposium. Each student had a chance to workshop his or her essay with fellow students and visiting scholars. Dr. Jan Boxill (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), Dr. Marc Cohen (Seattle University), Dr. William Doane (Penn State University), and Dr. Jeffery Smith (University of Redlands and Schaenen Scholar at DePauw University) led seminar discussions and each presented a lecture at the symposium. 

Dr. Marc Cohen from the Albers School of Business at Seattle University gave the concluding lecture of the symposium. Dr. Cohen opened his presentation with an interactive experiment known as the "public goods game." In this game, each student hypothetically receives $100. Everyone is given the option to give some of their money to a public pool, and the amount is up to them. The game progresses in rounds. After round 1, the total money donated to the public pool is doubled and redistributed among the players. In every round, if each player donated $100, each player would always double his or her amount of money. However, the game doesn't proceed in this way. Many players consistently defect (give $0) from round to round. By the end of the game, there is a large discrepancy in cash distribution among the players. Often, the game results in every player defecting. Here is an except from Dr. Cohen's presentation and commentary on the experiment:

"I want you to think about what this means and how astonishing it is, and I want you to worry. I want you to worry because if we can't maintain cooperation in a classroom full of MBA students where decisions are being made public, how can you maintain cooperation anywhere? If cooperation breaks down here at an ethics center, how could you ever have cooperation in the economic system? That's a really, really scary question...I actually don't think that this is about cooperation. At a minimum, it's about coordination because the question for me as a player is what should I do in this situation given that my outcome will depend on others. That's a question of coordinating...Question: How do you prevent coordination from breaking down?  Allow for punishment...you have to create a consequence or mechanism to maintain coordination...The theoretical conception of the business organization comes from this experiment."