IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Rawlsian Critique of Utilitarianism: A Luhmannian Interpretation


  • Vladislav Valentinov

    () (Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies)


Abstract The present paper builds on the Rawlsian critique of utilitarianism in order to identify the moral implications of Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory. While Luhmann aptly discerned the pervasive problems of the precarious system–environment relations throughout the modern society, he took moral communication to be person-centered and thus ill-equipped to deal with these problems. At the same time, the Rawlsian possibility of sacrificing fundamental liberties for the sake of economic gains not only exemplifies the Luhmannian precariousness of the relations of the economic system to its societal environment, but also shows this precariousness to be a moral problem. Thus, from the systems-theoretic perspective, the Rawlsian idea of justice denotes the moral dimension of the capacity of the societal environment to carry the economic system. More generally, the proposed complementarity between Rawls and Luhmann allows to see the precariousness of system–environment relations, for any type of social system, as a moral problem. Two implications follow. First, the morally problematic manifestations of the precarious system–environment relations are not limited to the Rawlsian case of the discrimination of the least advantaged groups but rather include a broad range of social costs and damaging effects of business on society and nature. Second, and related, the proposed systems-theoretic perspective explicates the moral value of sustainability of the economic as well as other social systems in their environment, societal and ecological alike.

Suggested Citation

  • Vladislav Valentinov, 2017. "The Rawlsian Critique of Utilitarianism: A Luhmannian Interpretation," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 142(1), pages 25-35, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:142:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s10551-015-2786-y
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-015-2786-y

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Abstract
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Valentinov, Vladislav, 2014. "K. William Kapp's theory of social costs: A Luhmannian interpretation," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 28-33.
    2. Silvia Sacchetti, 2015. "Inclusive and Exclusive Social Preferences: A Deweyan Framework to Explain Governance Heterogeneity," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 126(3), pages 473-485, February.
    3. Tobias Hahn & Jonatan Pinkse & Lutz Preuss & Frank Figge, 2015. "Tensions in Corporate Sustainability: Towards an Integrative Framework," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 127(2), pages 297-316, March.
    4. Valentinov, Vladislav & Hielscher, Stefan & Pies, Ingo, 2015. "Nonprofit organizations, institutional economics, and systems thinking," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 491-501.
    5. Yang Chen & Guiyao Tang & Jiafei Jin & Ji Li & Pascal Paillé, 2015. "Linking Market Orientation and Environmental Performance: The Influence of Environmental Strategy, Employee’s Environmental Involvement, and Environmental Product Quality," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 127(2), pages 479-500, March.
    6. Valentinov, Vladislav, 2015. "From equilibrium to autopoiesis: A Luhmannian reading of Veblenian evolutionary economics," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 143-155.
    7. Pamela Queen, 2015. "Enlightened Shareholder Maximization: Is this Strategy Achievable?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 127(3), pages 683-694, March.
    8. Pies, Ingo & Hielscher, Stefan & Beckmann, Markus, 2009. "Moral Commitments and the Societal Role of Business: An Ordonomic Approach to Corporate Citizenship," Business Ethics Quarterly, Cambridge University Press, vol. 19(03), pages 375-401, July.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:142:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s10551-015-2786-y. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla) or (Rebekah McClure). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.