Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 154, Issue 4, pp 929–942 | Cite as

Individual Actions and Corporate Moral Responsibility: A (Reconstituted) Kantian Approach

  • Tobey SchardingEmail author
Original Paper


This paper examines the resources of Kantian ethics to establish corporate moral responsibility. I defend Matthew Altman’s claim that Kantian ethics cannot hold corporations morally responsible for corporate malfeasance. Rather than following Altman in interpreting this inability as a reason not to use Kantian ethics, however, I argue that the Kantian framework is correct: business ethicists should not seek to hold corporations morally responsible. Instead, they should use Kantian (and/or other ethical-theoretical) resources to criticize the actions of individual businesspeople. I set forth a model for decomposing business actions into their individual parts and reconstituting them in a context-specific “maxim” that Kantian ethics can evaluate. The reconstituted form of Kantian ethics that I defend is better able to manage decision-making complexity than traditional interpretations. To demonstrate the usefulness of my approach, I apply it to the recent Wells Fargo bogus-accounts scandal.


Banking ethics Corporate moral responsibility Cross-selling Kantian ethics Wells Fargo 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Tobey Scharding declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management & Global BusinessRutgers Business School - Newark and New BrunswickPiscatawayUSA

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