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The Rawlsian Critique of Utilitarianism: A Luhmannian Interpretation

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  • Vladislav Valentinov

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

Abstract

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
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    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.
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