Judging the Business Corporation

Cultural, Natural, and Cosmic Foundations
By William C. Frederick©

Table of Contents


All parts of this e-book were written by me over a period of 53 years, and all but two of the chapters have been previously published in journals or books. So, there is little new to be found here, except perhaps for their rearrangement into three major conceptual and chronological classifications. So, you may justifiably ask, why do it? My answer follows.

One purpose is to record in one identifiable, findable space the appearance and flow of major ideas and themes that constituted the growth and development of the academic field of corporate social responsibility (CSR). This is not to say, nor to claim, that this compilation is a complete or comprehensive account of CSR, for many, many other scholars have developed their own unique approaches, methods, theories, and purposes during the more than half-century evolution of the CSR field. The view here gives only a partial picture, although one that captures some of the recognized main-line concepts. There is a real sense in which this e-book would, or may someday, be of some interest to academics who write about the emergence of academic business-and-society thought in mid-20th century America.

A second purpose of this e-book is to call attention to the on-going and ever-changing flow of concepts and theories about how corporate social responsibility has been, and continues to be, defined, proposed, and applied in the workplace during the over five decades of its existence as an academic field of inquiry. Let me invoke here the image of Janus, an ancient mythological Roman deity, who was the “god of all beginnings” (the month of January derives its name from Janus) and “the custodian of the universe.” Janus was usually depicted simultaneously looking backward (toward earlier beginnings) and forward (toward new beginnings). In its own way, that is what this e-book does – looks back on the emergence of CSR ideas, as well as forward toward where the CSR field is heading. Keep this image of Janus in mind as you read and think about the book’s flow of ideas through time – and where it is carrying both business and society. You may encounter Janus-like happenings here and there as the book unfolds

. A third purpose of this e-book is even more personal than presenting just my own ideas about CSR. The book is my personal reflective view after having participated in one of the most exciting and progressive academic movements of the 20th and early 21st centuries. It gives me an opportunity to share with interested readers what it all seems to have meant to study, teach, and write about business-and-society relationships. My professional journey is drawing to a close, as it should, and it is now important to make room for newer and fresher points of view. I do hope the reader’s own journey will be as rewarding for him or her as mine has been.


Prologue to Part I: Janus, "the god of all beginnings,” although born myopic (near-sighted), makes what for him is a new discovery: human culture. Much later, around mid-19th century, Janus is assisted by European and American cultural anthropologists who systematically begin to study the diverse ways of living found among people around the globe. Eventually, their ideas about culture caught on among other social scientists who then applied the culture concept to the business corporation. Clearly, it was another “beginning” for Janus.

1 The Growing Concern over Business Responsibility
California Management Review, 1960, 2, 4: 54-61

2 Business Responsibility: A Reply to Milton Friedman
1970 working paper not previously published

3 From CSR1 to CSR2: The Maturing of Business-and-Society Thought
1978 working paper published as “Classic Paper” in Business & Society, 1994, 33, 2: 150-164 and a Coda, 1994: 165-166

4 Toward CSR3: Why Ethical Analysis is Indispensable and Unavoidable in Corporate Affairs
California Management Review, 1986, 28, 2: 126-155

5 Moving to CSR4: What to Pack for the Trip
Business & Society, 1998, 37, 1, 40-59

6 Corporate Social Responsibility: Deep Roots, Flourishing Growth, Promising Future
A. Crane, A. Williams, D. Matten, J. Moon, & D. Siegel (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility, 2008, 522-531


Prologue to Part II: Wearing corrective lenses for his myopia, Janus now began to see things and people with greater clarity. One such person was Charles Darwin whose theory of natural evolution – intriguingly enough – appeared alongside and about the same time as the cultural theories of the anthropologists. Janus scratched his head, wondering if Darwin’s new book, The Origin of Species, might signal another of Janus’s own godly “new beginnings.” Within the modern corporation, could Nature have greater influence than Culture? Could Nature be normatively significant?

7 The Corporation: Nature’s Black Box
William C. Frederick, Corporation, Be Good!, Dog Ear, 2006

8 Anchoring Values in Nature: Toward a Theory of Business Values
Business Ethics Quarterly, 1992, 2, 3: 283-303

9 Convergent Ethics Analysis: Toward a New Normative Synthesis
Address to Annual Meeting, Society for Business Ethics, 1995

10 Nature and Business Ethics
R. E. Frederick (ed.). A Companion to Business Ethics, Blackwell, 1999, 100-111

11 Evolutionary Social Contracts
Business and Society Review, 2002, 107, 3: 283-308. Coauthor: David Wasieleski

12 The Evolutionary Firm and Its Moral (Dis)Contents
2002 Ruffin Lecture. R. Edward Freeman & Patricia Werhane (eds.) Business, Science, and Ethics, 2004, 145-176


Prologue to Part III: Tired of seeing things only at close range, Janus was fitted with a pair of Hubble lenses and – voila! – he suddenly became presbyopic (far-sighted). As “custodian of the universe,” Janus could now see far back into Time, to the very earliest beginnings of the Universe. Looking forward, he also glimpsed a somewhat cloudy future for the world of human affairs. Janus asked himself: What could this mean for the modern business corporation and its future? Would his Hubble lenses be sharp enough to clarify the long-term fate of human culture, the natural business corporation, and the normative education of corporate managers? Janus shrugged, and said, “Time will tell.“

13 Natural Corporate Management: Core Concepts
Excerpts from William C. Frederick, Natural Corporate Management, 2012.

14 A Natural Theory of the Firm
Excerpts from William C. Frederick, Natural Corporate Management, 2012.

15 The Business Schools’ Moral Dilemma
William C. Frederick. From Diane Swanson & Dann Fisher (eds.), Advancing Business Ethics Education, IAP, 2008, 25-42.


As stated in this e-book’s opening paragraph, the study of Corporate Social Responsibility reflects the innovative, creative contributions of many scholars in the United States and abroad. In my view, four names within that scholarly community stand out from others as having been the principal shapers and inspirational drivers of CSR inquiry. In each case, they formulated the three key theoretical and conceptual frameworks that guided the work and thinking of all the rest of us. I offer them here with an enormous respect for their originality and path-breaking significance.

  • Norman Bowie’s deeply reflective and practically useful concept of KANTIAN RIGHTS in the corporate workplace, which he developed and has shared with us over his long and distinguished career at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota. Corporate managers everywhere owe it to themselves to heed Bowie’s words about the normative rights of all market participants. His ideas are fully developed in Norman E. Bowie, Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective, Blackwell, 1999.
  • R. Edward Freeman’s philosophically sophisticated and pragmatically workable concept of CORPORATE STAKEHOLDER, which encouraged and emboldened corporate managers to adopt a CSR stakeholder perspective as they formulate their company’s strategy. In 1984, Freeman, then at Penn’s Wharton School and now at Virginia’s Darden School, introduced the stakeholder idea, which has been so universally accepted that the term, “stakeholder,” is a normal part of the marketplace idiom. See where it all started in R. Edward Freeman’s Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, Pitman Publishing, 1984.
  • Thomas Donaldson’s & Thomas Dunfee’s INTEGRATED SOCIAL CONTRACTS THEORY (ISCT) brought together in one place the philosophic and the pragmatic components needed to make Corporate Social Responsibility a comprehensive, realistic, achievable approach for corporate managers. Particularly important to ISCT was the concept of “hypernorms” as overarching ethical components. As faculty colleagues in the Wharton School, their views found expression in Thomas Donaldson & Thomas W. Dunfee, Ties That Bind: A Social Contracts Approach to Business Ethics, Harvard Business School Press, 1999. It is worth noting that Donaldson had earlier set forth “ten fundamental international rights” as the normative basis of social contracts between business and society; see Thomas Donaldson, The Ethics of International Business, Oxford University Press, 1989.

So, there you have it – the conceptual toolbox that shaped and channeled the search for CSR academic theory and its application to corporate decision making.

It is intriguing, and perhaps instructive, that three of the four scholars – Bowie, Freeman, and Donaldson – are professional philosophers and Dunfee, now deceased, was a legal scholar. Since all four were business school faculty members, that meant their ideas were tugged in the direction of practical usefulness in the corporate workplace, while retaining the philosophers’ and lawyer’s normative orientations.

Since Janus was capable of looking both backward and forward at the same time, I strongly suspect he would have approved this combination of old and new, theory and practice, ethics and values.


Patricia H. Werhane & R. Edward Freeman (eds.). The Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Business Ethics. Blackwell Publishers. 1997, 2005.

Robert E. Frederick (ed.). A Companion to Business Ethics. Blackwell Publishers, Ltd. 1999.

Patricia H. Werhane (Editor-in-Chief). Business Ethics Quarterly. Vol. 10, No. 1, January 2000.
The 2000 millennium issue.

Wayne Visser, Dirk Matten, Manfred Pohl, & Nick Tolhurst (eds.). The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Complete Reference Guide to Concepts, Codes and Organisations. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 2007.

Robert W. Kolb (ed.). Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society. Volumes 1-5. Sage Publications. 2008.

Andrew Crane, Abagail McWilliams, Dirk Matten, Jeremy Moon & Donald S. Siegel (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Responsibility. Oxford University Press. 2008.

Kenneth Goodpaster (Executive Editor), Archie B. Carroll, Kenneth J. Lipartito, James E. Post & Patricia H. Werhane. Corporate Responsibility: The American Experience. Cambridge University Press. 2012.

CSR BOOKS BY WILLIAM C. FREDERICK, listed chronogically

Business and Society. McGraw-Hill, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996. Coauthors: Keith Davis, Robert Blomstrom, James Post, Anne Lawrence, James Weber.

Social Auditing: Evaluating the Impact of Corporate Programs. Praeger. 1976. Coauthors: David Blake, Mildred S. Myers. Japanese translation: Tokyo, Tuttle-Mori Agency, 1985.

Values, Nature, and Culture in the American Corporation. Oxford University Press. 1995.

Corporation, Be Good! The Story of Corporate Social Responsibility. Dog Ear Publishing. 2006.

Natural Corporate Management: From the Big Bang to Wall Street. Greenleaf Publishing. 2012.