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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DOI 10.2307/27749743
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References found in this work BETA
Thomas Scanlon (1998). What We Owe to Each Other. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Friedrich A. Hayek (1961). The Constitution of Liberty. Philosophical Review 70 (3):433-434.

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