, Volume 101, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 71-81
Date: 12 Jan 2012

Toward an Intermediate Position on Corporate Moral Personhood

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Abstract

Models of moral responsibility rely on foundational views about moral agency. Many scholars believe that only humans can be moral agents, and therefore business needs to create models that foster greater receptivity to others through ethical dialog. This view leads to a difficulty if no specific person is the sole causal agent for an act, or if something comes about through aggregated action in a corporate setting. An alternate approach suggests that corporations are moral agents sufficiently like humans to be treated as persons, which leads to questions of intentionality and the organizational structure required to support the claim. In this article, I make an intermediate claim combining Goodpaster and Matthews' (60:132–141, 1982) view that a corporation may have a moral culture which affects subjective choices, with those of Painter-Morland (17(3):515–534, 2007) who points out that we should move from a model that posits discrete persons acting on each other to one where morality comes about through shared experience between agents who participate in each other’s lives. I argue that the discussion has been trapped in traditional dichotomies, and is better served by language that more accurately represents the dynamic interplay between organization and individual. I underwrite this claim by looking at recent changes in British and American legal approaches to corporate responsibility. These provide greater incentives for owners and business leaders to encourage employees to discuss the reflexive nature of legal and moral responsibility in business, facilitate workers to voice their moral concerns, and create structures and processes that allow those concerns to be heard.