Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 75, Issue 1, pp 63–76 | Cite as

Returning to Rawls: Social Contracting, Social Justice, and Transcending the Limitations of Locke



A generation ago, the field of business ethics largely abandoned analyzing the broader issue of social justice to focus upon more micro concerns. Donaldson applied the social contract tradition of Locke and Rawls to the ethics of management decision-making, and with Dunfee, has advanced this project ever since. Current events suggest that if the field is to remain relevant it needs to return to examining social and economic fairness, and␣Rawl’s approach to social contracting suggests a way to start. First, however, the field needs to discard the weaker and counterproductive aspects of its Lockean legacy: Locke’s hostility to government activism and his indifference with regard to outcomes for the bulk of society. Donaldson’s and Dunfee’s social contracting approach is not suited to, nor was it designed to, analyze or resolve broad issues of social and economic justice. Their postulated network of communities upon which they rely is problematic in a number of ways, and while they take the legal and political status quo into account, their method does not deal with the historical reality that, as the economic and social environment changes, promoting greater justice requires new and sometimes coercive government interventions. Rawls’s work, however, does acknowledge the historically demonstrable necessity of using the power of government to help to achieve desirable social outcomes. While he rejected Mill’s methodology, Rawls was inspired by the earlier philosopher’s concerns for social justice at a time of major economic change. The field would do well to follow the example of both men in this respect.


Donaldson Dunfee economic justice Locke Mill Rawls social contract Whig 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.California State UniversitySacramentoUSA

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