As Axel Honneth has recently noted, the critical concerns of social philosophers during the past three decades have been focused primarily on questions of justice, with ethical issues about the human good being largely excluded. In the first section I briefly explore this exclusion in both ‘Anglo-American’ political philosophy and ‘German’ critical theory. I then argue, in the main sections, that despite this commitment to their exclusion, distinctively ethical concepts and ideals can be identified both in Rawls’s Theory of Justice and in Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, taking these as exemplary, representative texts for each theoretical school. These ethical elements, and their implications for the critical evaluation of economic institutions, have gone largely unnoticed. In the final section I indicate the kinds of debates that might be generated, were these to be given the attention they arguably deserve. I focus especially on the significance of empirical issues, and hence on the role of social science in social criticism.