In the brilliant and innovative comedy “Better Off Ted” (prematurely defunct, like most brilliant and innovative shows in Fox), Ted is the head of Research and Development at a really evil, gigantic, hands-in-every-business corporation: Veridian Dynamics. The show makes constant sport of the dehumanization of employees and the pursuit of greed for its own sake. It is bound to show up many times in this website.
One of the greatest features of this show are its Veridian Dynamics Commercials, that punctuate the theme of the current episode. In this particular episode, Ted is reflecting on the value of sticking to the “high road.” Naturally, the commercial establishes the relationship of big corporations to, well, ethics…
Better Off Ted, Season 2, Ep. 9: “The Long and Winding High Road”
20th Century Fox, 2010. Directed by Michael Fresco
Posted in YouTube by ftradio

Themes: Business Ethics, right and wrong, greed.

Teaching tips:

This is a very short clip, but can be used both as a discussion starter for general ethics and for business ethics.

In the context of general (and meta-) ethics, you can use it to launch a discussion about the meaning of those two words, right and wrong. I’m guessing that most of your students would initially agree with the final statement: “It means something. We just don’t know what.” Further discussion could go into trying to pin down their meaning–or wonder if they have a meaning at all.

In the context of business ethics, Veridian unapologetically claims not to have anything to do with ethics or right and wrong, since they are a successful company. This is not an uncommon perception, but is it correct? Is that how successful businesses run? Or is this a cartoonish, false stereotype that does not reflect real business?

Questions for discussion:

If you are discussing the meaning of “right and wrong” (general ethics / metaethics):

  • Do the terms “right” and “wrong” mean something definite? If so, try to phrase what they mean it as precisely as you can.
  • Why is “right” and “wrong” important?
  • It is possible that, when trying to define “right” and “wrong,” you’ve used such words as “ethical,” “moral,” and related. Try to define these terms now. You will find that it is very difficult to do so without going back to “right” and “wrong.” So the question is, are you trapped in a circular definition? Does this invalidate your answer?
  • Or perhaps you’ve found it very difficult to define these terms in a precise manner. Some philosophers would say that the terms have no real meaning, since their meaning is “fluid” and changes constantly according to the situation. Would you agree or disagree with this analysis, and why?
  • Does it follow, from the difficulty in finding a precise meaning for “right” and “wrong,” that there is no “real” or “objective” right and wrong?

If you are discussing business ethics:

  • Is there a necessary connection between business success and not knowing (or not caring) about right and wrong? How do you justify your conclusion?
  • Or is it perhaps the other way around, and (like some business ethicists claim) there is a connection between being ethical and having success in the long term? Again, provide examples and arguments to justify your conclusion.
  • Can a business operate without knowing what is right and wrong?
  • Is the situation different for small businesses and large corporations? Are large corporations less obligated to act ethically?

Also see:

  • William Damon’s The Moral Advantage (2004) is an excellent text examining the view that caring about moral issues actually provides an advantage in the business front. If nothing else, just reading the introductory chapter will give you a lot to talk about!
Please leave a comment (below) or send us a note! If you send further ideas on how to use a specific clip, we’ll move them to the body of the article.