No More Lemmings, Please - Reflections on the Communal Authority Thesis

Journal of Business Ethics 88 (4):717 - 728 (2009)
A key feature of ISCT is the claim that individuals are required to comply with the norms that are "accepted by a clear majority of the community as standing for an ethical principle" [Donaldson and Dunfee, 1999, "The Ties that Bind" (Harvard Business School Press, Boson, MA), p. 39], so long as these norms are consistent with hypernorms. I refer to this as the communal authority thesis. Many people see the communal authority thesis as an attractive feature of ISCT, a welcome move away from the abstraction of principle-based ethical theories. I argue in this article, however, that the communal authority thesis is false: we do not have a general moral obligation to comply with the accepted norms in our community. I consider and reject several defenses of the communal authority thesis, including the central arguments put forward by Donaldson and Dunfee. I go on to develop my own position, which accepts that social norms can be important from the moral point of view. However, I argue that social norms are important because they can shape the morally important features of our situation, not because we have a general obligation to comply with these norms as such. I use examples such as gift giving in Japan and the housing crisis to illustrate my position
Keywords social norms  cultural relativism  author- ity  social contracts  consent  communitarianism  Habermas  Hayek  ISCT
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Thomas Scanlon (1998). What We Owe to Each Other. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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