ISCT, Hypernorms, and Business: A Reinterpretation [Book Review]

Journal of Business Ethics 88 (4):645 - 658 (2009)
Numerous universal standards have been proposed to provide ethical guidance for the actions of business. The result has been a confusing mix of standards and their defenses. Thus, there is widespread recognition that business requires a common framework to provide ethical guidance. One of the most prominent conceptual frameworks recently offered, which addresses issues of international business ethics, is that of integrative social contracts theory (ISCT) developed by Thomas Donaldson and Thomas Dunfee. By integrating normative and empirical matters, and drawing on the concepts of social contracts and hypernorms, ISCT seeks to provide a workable, comprehensive theory of business ethics. In this article I argue that, in fact, ISCT offers two different views of hypemorms and the theoretical structure surrounding them. A Principlist View that understands hypernorms as the most general, universal moral principles that hold moral sway over all microsocial contracts. A Contextualist View is that hypernorms are not special, additional norms, but refer to a certain status that the most general norms or principles of each community achieve that are part of a convergence with the norms of other societies. I maintain that the Contextualist View offers a plausible view of ISCT while avoiding many of the criticisms that have been made against the Principlist interpretation of ISCT. Further, the Contextualist View suggests other areas in which ISCT needs further development, such as in the area of human rights which I also briefly explore
Keywords social contract  integrative social contracts theory  moral free space  hypernorms  stakeholder theory  Donaldson  Dunfee  human rights
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