Date of Original Version




Published In

C. Lütge, ed., Handbook of the Philosophical Foundations of Business Ethics, Springer, 2012

Abstract or Table of Contents

Rational choice theories assert that human beings behave rationally, either in the narrow sense of rational self-interest, or in the broader sense that decisions are rationally based on preferences. These empirical theories make no direct ethical claims, but they may have relevance to ethics. Social contract theorists have maintained, for example, that rational individuals can assent to a social arrangement that promotes general welfare in some sense. In particular, self-interested business owners can, under the right conditions, rationally consent to regulation. Social choice theorists have argued in a mathematical mode that if we rationally derive social policy from individual preferences, we will adhere to certain ethical norms, perhaps a utilitarian or Rawlsian maximin principle. However, these arguments are based on strong assumptions, particularly with respect to interpersonal incomparability of utilities. Certain rational bargaining procedures, such as Nash bargaining or Raiffa-Kalai-Smorodinsky bargaining, have been shown to lead to outcomes that likewise have ethical content. The former has seen practical application in industry, and the latter results in a minimax relative concession principle similar to that derived by some social contract theorists.