Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 107, Issue 2, pp 183–195 | Cite as

Reflections on Corporate Moral Responsibility and the Problem Solving Technique of Alexander the Great

  • John HasnasEmail author


The academic debate over the propriety of attributing moral responsibility to corporations is decades old and ongoing. The conventional approach to this debate is to identify the sufficient conditions for moral agency and then attempt to determine whether corporations possess them. This article recommends abandoning the conventional approach in favor of an examination of the practical consequences of corporate moral responsibility. The article’s thesis is that such an examination reveals that attributing moral responsibility to corporations is ethically acceptable only if it does not authorize the punishment of corporations as collective entities, and further, that this renders the debate over corporate moral responsibility virtually pointless.


Corporate moral responsibility Collective punishment Shared intention Collective responsibility 


  1. African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. (1981). OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 Rev. 5.Google Scholar
  2. Ainslie, E. K. (2006). Indicting corporations revisited: Lessons of the Arthur Andersen prosecution. American Criminal Law Review, 43, 107–142.Google Scholar
  3. American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José). (1969). 1144 UNTS 123.Google Scholar
  4. Arnold, D. G. (2006). Corporate moral agency. In P. French (Ed.), Shared intentions and collective responsibility. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  5. Arrian, (1971). The campaigns of Alexander. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  6. Arthur Andersen, LLP v. United States, 544 U.S. 696 (2005).Google Scholar
  7. Benn, S. I. (1972). Punishment. Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Vol. 7, p. 29). Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bratman, M. (1987). Intentions, plans, and practical reason. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bratman, M. (1993). Shared intentions. Ethics, 104, 97–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bratman, M. (1999). Faces of intention: Selected essays on intention and agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bucy, P. (1991). Corporate ethos: A standard for imposing corporate criminal liability. Minnesota Law Review, 75, 1095–1184.Google Scholar
  12. Coffee, J. C. (1981). No soul to damn: No body to kick: An unscandalized inquiry into the problem of corporate punishment. Michigan Law Review, 79, 386–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Danley, J. (1990). Corporate moral agency: The case for anthropological bigotry. In W. M. Hoffman & J. M. Moore (Eds.), Business ethics (2nd ed., p. 202). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  14. Donaldson, T. (1982). Corporations and morality. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  15. Feinberg, J. (1965). The expressive function of punishment. Monist, 49, 397–423.Google Scholar
  16. French, P. (1979). The corporation as a moral person. American Philosophy Quarterly, 16, 207–215.Google Scholar
  17. French, P. (1984). Collective and corporate responsibility. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  18. French, P. A. (1995). Corporate ethics. Fort Worth: Harcourt and Brace.Google Scholar
  19. French, P. (1996). Integrity, intentions, and corporations. American Business Law Journal, 34, 141–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Geneva Convention IV Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. (1949). 75 UNTS 287.Google Scholar
  21. Holmes, O. W. (1881). The common law. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.Google Scholar
  22. Keely, M. (1979). Organizations as non-persons. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 15, 149–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ladd, J. (1970). Morality and the ideal of rationality in formal organizations. Monist, 54, 488–516.Google Scholar
  24. Ladd, J. (1984). Corporate mythology and individual responsibility. The International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 2, 1–12.Google Scholar
  25. McMahon, C. (1995). The ontological and moral status of organizations. Business Ethics Quarterly, 5, 541–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Moohr, G. S. (2007). Of bad apples and bad trees: Considering fault-based liability for the complicit corporation. American Criminal Law Review, 44, 1343–1364.Google Scholar
  27. Pettit, P. (2007). Responsibility incorporated. Ethics, 117, 171–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Philips, M. J. (1995). Corporate moral responsibility: When it might matter. Business Ethics Quarterly, 5, 555–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Regan, Jr., M. C. (2007). Moral intuitions and organizational culture. St. Louis University Law Journal, 5, 941–987.Google Scholar
  30. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A.Google Scholar
  31. Ronnegard, D. Collective intentionality and the legitimacy of corporate moral responsibility attributions, text on file with the author.Google Scholar
  32. Rylands v. Fletcher, 159 Eng. Rep. 737 (1865).Google Scholar
  33. Vaughan v. Menlove, 132 Eng. Rep. 490 (1837).Google Scholar
  34. Velasquez, M. G. (1983). Why corporations are not morally responsible for anything they do. Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 2, 1–18.Google Scholar
  35. Velasquez, M. (2003). Debunking corporate moral responsibility. Business Ethics Quarterly, 13, 531–562.Google Scholar
  36. Waters, J. A. (1978). Catch 20.5: Corporate morality as an organizational phenomenon. Organizational Dynamics, 6(4), 3–19.Google Scholar
  37. Werhane, P. H. (1985). Persons, rights, and corporations. New York: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McDonough School of BusinessGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations