Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 149, Issue 3, pp 561–588 | Cite as

From Bounded Morality to Consumer Social Responsibility: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Socially Responsible Consumption and Its Obstacles

  • Michael P. Schlaile
  • Katharina Klein
  • Wolfgang Böck


Corporate social responsibility has been intensively discussed in business ethics literature, whereas the social responsibility of private consumers appears to be less researched. However, there is also a growing interest from business ethicists and other scholars in the field of consumer social responsibility (ConSR). Nevertheless, previous discussions of ConSR reveal the need for a viable conceptual basis for understanding the social responsibility of consumers in an increasingly globalized market economy. Moreover, evolutionary aspects of human morality seem to have been neglected despite the fact that private consumers are undoubtedly human beings. In addition to that, empirical studies suggest that many consumers believe themselves to be responsible but do not act according to their alleged values or attitudes. This raises the question of what deters them from doing so. Therefore, the contribution of this conceptual paper is threefold: we (i) (re-)conceptualize ConSR in terms of a combination of a Max Weber-inspired approach (social action and the ethic of responsibility) with the social connection approach to shared responsibility proposed by Iris Marion Young; (ii) shed light on the previously neglected implications of an evolutionarily induced bounded morality for ConSR, and (iii) identify potential obstacles to socially responsible consumption, particularly against the backdrop of shared social responsibility and bounded morality. In this latter respect, the paper focuses specifically on the obstacles of low moral intensity, moral stupefaction, informational complexity, and the lack of perceived consumer effectiveness. In sum, the paper advances knowledge in the field of ConSR by using a transdisciplinary, literature-based approach.


Bounded morality Bounded rationality Consumer ethics Consumer social responsibility Ethical consumption Evolutionary ethics Moral intensity Moral stupefaction Perceived consumer effectiveness Socially responsible consumption 



Consumer social responsibility


Corporate social responsibility


(The) ethic of principled conviction


(The) ethic of responsibility


Gross domestic product


The International Monetary Fund


Perceived consumer effectiveness


Socially responsible consumption



We have benefited from presenting an earlier version of this paper at the Annual Conference of the European Business Ethics Network (EBEN) on “Business Ethics in a European Perspective,” June 12–14, 2014, at the ESMT European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. We are grateful for helpful questions, criticism, and suggestions from participants of our session. Special thanks to Michael Schramm for valuable advice, comments, and support. Moreover, we would like to thank Lisa Angerer, Elisabeth Berger, Jessica Kuntz, Mark Newman, Michael Volz, Adrian Walton, and four anonymous reviewers (two for the EBEN submission, two for this journal submission) for contributing to the evolution of this paper in various, often substantial ways. It should go without saying that all remaining confusion and mistakes are exclusively our own responsibility.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael P. Schlaile
    • 1
  • Katharina Klein
    • 2
  • Wolfgang Böck
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Business Ethics, Institute of Economic and Business Education (560)University of HohenheimStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Department of Business EthicsUniversity of HohenheimStuttgartGermany

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