Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 106, Issue 3, pp 367-381

First online:

Imperfect Duties and Corporate Philanthropy: A Kantian Approach

  • David E. OhreenAffiliated withDepartment of General Education, Mount Royal University Email author 
  • , Roger A. PetryAffiliated withLuther College at the University of Regina

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Nonprofit organizations play a crucial role in society. Unfortunately, many such organizations are chronically underfunded and struggle to meet their objectives. These facts have significant implications for corporate philanthropy and Kant’s notion of imperfect duties. Under the concept of imperfect duties, businesses would have wide discretion regarding which charities receive donations, how much money to give, and when such donations take place. A perceived problem with imperfect duties is that they can lead to moral laxity; that is, a failure on the part of businesses to fulfill their financial obligations to nonprofit organizations. This article argues the problem of moral laxity rests on a misinterpretation of Kantian ethics and, therefore, is really not a problem at all. As such, we argue corporate philanthropy while an imperfect duty should be interpreted more akin to perfect duties and, as a consequence, moral laxity does not arise for those corporations committed to acting on the basis of the moral law. More specifically, firms have duty-based obligations on the basis of benevolence, and as good corporate citizens, to help fund non-profit organizations.


Beneficence Corporate philanthropy Ethics Imperfect duties Immanuel Kant