Why Corporations Are Not Morally Responsible for Anything They Do

Properly speaking, the corporation, considered as an entity distinct from its members, cannot be morally responsible for wrongful corporate acts. Setting aside (in this abstract) acts brought about through negligence or omissions, we may say that moral responsibility for an act attaches to that agent (or agents) in whom the act "originates" in this sense: (1) the agent formed the (mental) intention or plan to bring about that act (possibly with the help of others) and (2) the act was intentionally brought about through bodily movements over which that agent had direct control (i.e. the kind of direct mental control that I have over the body I refer to as "my" body) and through which the agent carried out his (mental) intention or plan. Corporate acts do not thus originate in some corporate entity distinct from its members because the corporation has neither a mind to form intentions nor a body it directly controls: it lacks the proper mind/body unity. Instead, corporate acts originate in individual autonomous human beings who make up the corporation and who intentionally bring about corporate acts through their own bodily movements. Such human individuals, and not "the corporation," are morally responsible for corporate acts. Moreover, to say that an entity is "morally responsible" for a wrongful act is to say that the entity is liable to blame and punishment. But it is not possible to impose blame and punishment on a corporation without inflicting it on corporate members. Thus, to say that a corporation (as an entity distinct from its members) is "morally responsible" for a wrongful corporate act is to imply that a (possibly innocent) corporate member legitimately may be punished for something for which another entity was morally responsible. This violates the moral principles that underlie blame and punishment. To hold that the corporation can be morally responsible for its acts is to adopt a dangerous organicism
Keywords Applied Philosophy  Business and Professional Ethics
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ISBN(s) 0277-2027
DOI 10.5840/bpej19832349
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Kendy M. Hess (2014). The Free Will of Corporations. Philosophical Studies 168 (1):241-260.

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