Contractarian Business Ethics: Promise and Application Conditions

Ben Wempe

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


Abstract: Donaldson and Dunfee¿s project for an Integrated Social Contracts Theory (ISCT) arguably is the most promising approach to business ethics currently available. At any rate, in this paper we will argue that the contract model potentially forms a better point of departure for a theory of business ethics than the presently dominant stakeholder model. Whereas the stakeholder model is unable to crack three types of defining problems of business ethics, the contract model is in principle capable of providing more concrete practical guidance on these issues. These are the problems of accommodation, of incommensurability and of collective action. On the other hand, we will argue in this paper that the use of the social contract model as a basis for a theory of business ethics is bound to some strict application conditions. As can be shown from a comparative analysis of the manner in which the contract model was used in two earlier application domains, a well-formed Contractarian Business Ethics (CBE) requires a prior answer to the question of stakeholder-identification and would need to factor in the criteria of self-disciplinedness, argumentativity, task-directedness and domain-specificity. In delineating the policy-guiding capacity of CBE we distance ourselves from the broad criticism which sees the ISCT project as providing insufficiently practical guidance. We suggest that the authors of ISCT and their critics alike have so far been looking for the wrong kind of practical guidance to be derived from a theory of business ethics and we make a plea for a realistically actionable CBE.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Bibliographical note

Paper presented at the SIM paper session on Ethics perspectives, August 9, 2005. Still need to decide in which journal to publish this

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