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Pluralistic business ethics: the significance and justification of moral free space in integrative social contracts theory


  • James Dempsey

    1. Graduate Programme in Philosophy, University of St Andrews & University of Stirling, Scotland, UK and Inter Disciplinary Ethics Applied, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
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Integrative social contracts theory (ISCT) has been an influential theory in normative business ethics for well over a decade, drawing attention both as an object of criticism and as a source of inspiration. In this paper I argue that, despite this attention, the fact that it is a genuinely pluralistic theory, in the tradition of pluralistic theories of political philosophy, is often overlooked. It is in the notion of moral free space that this pluralism is most clearly expressed. This oversight is unfortunate for two reasons. Firstly, it prevents the potential of ISCT, as a normative theory of business ethics, from being appreciated fully; secondly, it leads us to ignore resources that could help tackle its most problematic flaws. In this second respect, I show how some of these flaws could be addressed by paying closer attention to the similarities between ISCT and John Rawls' theory of Political Liberalism.

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