Social Responsibility and Ethics: Clarifying the Concepts

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Students coming into a third-year business ethics course I teach are often confused about the use and meaning of the terms social responsibility and ethics. This motivated me to take a closer look at a sample of the management and business ethics literature for an explanation of their confusion. I found that there are inconsistencies in the way the two terms are employed and the way the concepts are defined. This paper identifies the different ways the relationship between social responsibility and ethics has been represented, the various uses of these two terms, and the contrasting views regarding the connection between morality and ethics. While this analysis does not resolve any difficult substantive questions, it does provide conceptual clarity as a necessary first step towards facilitating students’ critical engagement with the substantive issues.

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