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Hypernorms are a concept from Business ethics that applies to principles so fundamental that, by definition, they serve to evaluate lower-order norms, reaching to the root of what is ethical for humanity.

They were first proposed Thomas Donaldson and Thomas W. Dunfee [1] as part of an integrative social contract model of business ethics.[2] Donaldson and Dunfee have described hypernorms as:

"principles so fundamental that they constitute norms by which all others are to be judged. Hypernorms are discernible in a convergence of religious, political and philosophical thought. An "authentic norm" is one that is generated within a community's moral free space and which satisfies the requirements of terms 1 and 2 of the macrosocial contract. Authentic norms are based upon the attitudes and behaviors of the members of their source communities. A "legitimate norm" is an authentic norm that is compatible with hypernorms."[3]


  1. ^ “When ethics travel: the promise and peril of global business ethics” by Thomas Donaldson and Thomas W. Dunfee, California Management Review, Summer 1999; 41, 4; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 45
  2. ^ Social Contract Theory and Gender Discrimination: Some Reflections on the Donaldson/Dunfee Model Don Mayer; Anita Cava Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 2, Social Contracts and Business Ethics. (Apr., 1995), pp. 257-270.
  3. ^ Précis for Ties that Bind* Thomas Donaldson Thomas W. Dunfee http://lgst.wharton.upenn.edu/donaldst/Documents/Summary%20of%20Ties%204tjd%20for%20Personal%20Web%20Page.pdf & Business & Society Review 105(4)