After reading the Business Ethics(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) article, I thought I would have a better understanding of a corporation from an ethical standpoint. However, all it did was blend the line between black and white even further. In the United States, a corporation is its own entity, separate from the people who own it. In the court of law, a corporation is treated as a person. This brings up one of the main questions presented in the article: “Is the corporation a moral agent?”

Although it is established that a corporation is a legal entity, I think that it would be difficult to consider it a moral agent without considering the people in charge of the corporation. Peter French states that a corporation’s hierarchy of decision-making and their rules for determining whether a decision is in the interest of the corporation (as opposed to the interest of the individual making the decision) makes a corporation a moral agent.

I believe the corporation’s morality is merely a reflection of the morality of the individuals in charge of it. In other words, the corporation is only as moral as the people that control it. People make decisions based on how it affects themselves. Even the people that make the rules within a corporation are looking out for themselves. With corporations as a separate entity, there is a degree of separation morally as well. An example of this is how Donald Trump uses Chapter 11. How can we consider a corporation a moral agent then?

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5 responses »

  1. Jim says:

    I think you bring up some really interesting issues on the way we view companies and the type of right/standards that should relate to them. I remember a quote from one of the movies I watched for Econ 103 as a freshman, in which a man described corporations saying, “they have no soul to save, and no body to incarcerate”. Obviously this man was of the opinion that companies has too much power to make decisions which affected people’s lives, but without having any of the moral/legal consequences of actual people. I would definitely be interested to learn more about what caused the initial movement in the U.S. to grant corporations the rights of people. And consequently, why there has never been a movement (until now?) to create a system of accountability (one which actually motivates) for these entities.

  2. lcs024 says:

    I completely understand your point that it is extremely difficult to think of a corporation as a moral agent without considering the people. It is quite straightforward to think of a person and her morality because she is accountable for all of her decisions. That is, of course, not the case with a corporation which leads us to this grey area. I feel that every person associated with a corporation should remember at all times that her actions reflect the morality of the corporation. If more people did this and adhered to the corporation’s stated set of values/ethical standards, it would be far easier to view a corporation as a moral agent because its ethical standards would be more consistent across the organization. Unfortunately, there are almost always people who choose to act of their own volition in unmoral ways and can lead to disgracing the corporation, and even the corporation’s industry as a whole.

  3. Zach says:

    Whether or not a corporation is a moral agent is a difficult question to tackle. On one hand, corporations are obviously not living things, and thus one could say that the personification of inanimate objects is not really possible outside the realm of poetry. However, on the other hand, a corporation can be viewed as the collective output of a group of people. In this instance, I would argue that corporations actually can be viewed as a moral agent. A company is represented by its employees. Each one of them adds to the overall moral framework of the corporation for which they work. It is this collection that allows a company to be considered an moral agent. By becoming an amalgamation of different employees character, it takes on an identity of it’s own.

  4. manderson12 says:

    I agree that a corporation’s morality is a reflection of the morality of the individual’s in charge of it. All decisions are made in some interest to themselves. Even the decisions that are made for the good of the company are made because having the company thrive is beneficial to themselves. Why would someone make decisions that are detrimental to them, but at least good for the company? I’m not saying there are no moral people out there, but for the most part, people are just trying to make money when it comes to the corporate world.
    Many decisions are made every day within corporations, not only from the ones in charge of it, but even down the hierarchy of the employees. How can all of these decisions be treated as one individual in a court of law? The corporation leaders should be most accountable for the corporation’s actions, but some decisions cannot be fully blamed on them. It would be ideal for each individual to be responsible for their own actions, but that blame becomes hazy when several positions are interrelated. Finger pointing would be annoying to sort out, which is why this topic will be forever debated.

  5. Jordi says:

    If we speak of corporations “doing things” in other contexts- they have strategies, they succeed, the affect people, they have cultures, they have values, and so one- then why would we stop when it comes to moral agency? Or, are all those other ways of thinking of corporations also short-hand for “they are just the aggregation of individuals”?

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