The role of business ethics within higher education is often discussed in relation to its relevance to the business context. However, this paper is concerned with the link between business ethics and Ronald Barnett's conception of a higher education. It is argued that business ethics is the best placed subject within the business curriculum to facilitate 'critical interdisciplinarity'; to enable students to think critically about the business knowledge they already possess drawing on philosophical and sociological perspectives. The legitimacy of the business curriculum within higher education remains a contentious issue. Business ethics has a central role to play in reconciling the business curriculum with notions of a liberal higher education. It is crucial to retain the 'critical' or 'subversive' role of business ethics to counter-balance the dominant 'managerialist' perspective of the business curriculum and demonstrate that the study of business can help fulfil expectations that a higher education in business can be 'emancipatory'. Copyright © 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers.