Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 117–136 | Cite as

A Neo-Kantian foundation of Corporate Social Responsibility

  • Wim Dubbink
  • Luc van Liedekerke


‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is conceptualized in many ways. We argue that one cannot be indifferent about the issue of its conceptualization. In terms of methodology, our position is that any conceptual discussion must embed CSR in political theory. With regard to substance, we link up with the discussion on whether CSR must be defined on the basis of a tripartite or a quadripartite division of business responsibilities. We share A.B. Carroll’s intuition that a quadripartite division is called for as a basis to define CSR. However, defending the quadripartite division of business responsibilities requires that the distinctions between economic, legal, ethical and discretionary business responsibilities be made intelligible. Carroll’s account is defective in this respect. We argue that contemporary Neo-Kantian political ethics is able to make sense of these distinctions, because of its specific interpretation of liberalism. Interestingly, from a conventional liberal perspective this interpretation of liberalism is atypical, as it extends public morality beyond the domain of the law.


(Conceptualisation of) corporate social responsibility Kant Contemporary Neo-Kantian thinking liberalism Public vs private Right vs morality Political theory 



This paper was facilitated by a grant by Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. We would like to thank Archie B. Carroll, Herman van Erp, Barbara Herman, Jeffery Smith and Bert van de Ven and for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands
  2. 2.KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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