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Business and Professional Ethics Journal

Volume 31, Issue 3/4, Fall 2012

Bastiaan van der Linden
Pages 419-439
DOI: 10.5840/bpej2012313/422

Discursively Prioritizing Stakeholder Interests
An Inquiry into Habermas’s Distinction between Morality and Ethics

Contributions to stakeholder theory often do not systematically deal with the prioritization of stakeholder interests. An exception to this is Reed’s Habermasian approach to stakeholder management. Central to Reed’s discursive approach is Habermas’s distinction between morality and ethics. Many authors in business ethics argue that, because of its distinction between morality and ethics, discourse ethics is well suited for dealing with the pluralism that characterizes modern society, but also mention complications with the application of this distinction. This paper taps into the vivid debate in political philosophy on Habermas’s distinction between morality and ethics and, on this basis, further elaborates how stakeholder interests should be prioritized from the point of view of discourse ethics. It thus estimates the consequences of the objections against Habermas’s distinction for a discursive approach to the prioritization of stakeholder interests. The conclusion is that, although Habermas’s distinction is not as neat as it may seem, it is not fundamentally challenged and may be successfully applied in the prioritization of stakeholder interests.

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