Reconsidering the Meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility

  • Minka WoermannEmail author
Part of the Issues in Business Ethics book series (IBET, volume 37)


In this chapter, the implications that a deconstructive and complex ethics hold for our understanding of corporate social responsibility (CSR) will be investigated. The chapter commences with an overview of the traditional characterisation of CSR, in order to demonstrate that this characterisation is informed by an equalising or commutative understanding of justice, i.e. repaying good with good. On this interpretation, CSR policies articulate the content of the social contract, which is premised on a commutative understanding of just relations between societal and economic interest groups. Derrida however offers a much more radical view of responsibility, one that transcends the reciprocal demands and expectations of a circular economy. Responsibility, on his take, becomes an expression of ethical complexity, which means that, in practice, responsible action always pushes the limits of its own expression. However, this understanding of responsibility cannot form the basis of a substantive ethics, and is often criticised for being practically useless. More specifically, critics are concerned that if a Derridean view of ethical relations and responsible action are irreducible, undecidable, and non-subsumptive, then it is not clear on what basis moral judgement can take place (the charge of relativism), or of what value business ethics can be (the charge of irreducibility). Both these charges are addressed in this chapter at the hand of a close reading of Derrida’s work, in order to show how these charges can be overcome, but also to illustrate the value that a complex deconstructive ethics holds for business ethics in general and CSR in particular.


Corporate Social Responsibility Business Ethic Stakeholder Theory Corporate Responsibility Ethical Relation 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Centre for Applied EthicsStellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa

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