Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

Contextual Integrity of Business

Posted Jun 18, 2013 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

My essay on the contextual integrity of business is now available in the latest issue of the Business and Professional Ethics Journal, Vol. 32, Nos. 1-2, 2013.


Businesses always exist in some context. This essay proposes three criteria of contextual integrity—the principles of inclusion, relational identity, and completeness— with examples of their violation and proposals for their repair. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations violates the principle of inclusion by dissociating his advocacy of free trade from the slave trade on which it depended. We can repair this violation by developing a civic perspective that allows us to recognize the close connection between early capitalism and slavery. In The Wealth of Nations, Smith also violated the second principle of contextual integrity by identifying property relations as a process of natural evolution. In fact, property relations are grounded in civil law. We can repair this violation by recognizing that civic relations should be the basis for property relations. The violation of the contextual integrity of completeness can be observed in the division of the economy into different sectors that separate Wall Street from Main Street. We can repair this violation by designing the economy as different systems of provision, such as the housing or food system. This would allow us to have a complete picture of the contexts in which businesses exist, and help us to understand how business ethics might promote contextual integrity.

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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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