Grounding Positive Duties in Commercial Life

Journal of Business Ethics 120 (4):527-539 (2014)
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Abstract

For years business ethics has limited the moral duties of enterprises to negative duties. Over the last decade it has been argued that positive duties also befall commercial agents, at least when confronted with large scale public problems and when governments fail. The argument that enterprises have positive duties is often grounded in the political nature of commercial life. It is argued that agents must sometimes take over governmental responsibilities. The German republican tradition argues along these lines as does Nien-Hé Hsieh. Agents in commercial life are bound by positive duties because at some point they become citizens that must take on the responsibilities of the state. In this paper we leave undisputed the claim that corporations must acknowledge positive duties. However, we demonstrate that the political grounding fails, at least in the sense that this theory insufficiently acknowledges a long standing liberal tradition that vindicates apolitical markets and clear borderlines between politics and economics. We carve out an alternative route to the grounding of one specific positive duty—the duty to further justice. Our argument is based on the moral nature of commercial agents and tries to demonstrate that the duty to further justice ensues from liberalism. Taking a Kantian perspective, it conceptualizes the duty to further justice as a moral duty, orientated toward the political domain. It is grounded in the obligation to attain moral autonomy in the civil condition.

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References found in this work

A Theory of Justice.John Rawls - 1971 - Oxford,: Harvard University Press. Edited by Steven M. Cahn.
The law of peoples.John Rawls - 1999 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Edited by John Rawls.
The metaphysics of morals.Immanuel Kant - 1797/1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Mary J. Gregor.

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