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moral status of corporations

Larry M. May


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The moral status of the corporation is dependent on the moral features of the corporation and on the moral status of the members of the corporation. At the heart of the philosophical subfield called business ethics are central questions of metaphysics, ethical theory, and social philosophy related to the status of the business corporation. Of chief concern are these questions: Is the corporation ontologically distinct from the individual persons who compose it? Does the corporation have responsibilities, and to whom? Does the corporation have moral rights and are they equivalent to those of individual humans? Does the regulation of corporations pose special moral problems? Questions of ontology, responsibility, and rights have always been the proper purview of philosophy and so it is easy to understand why philosophers have gravitated recently to these questions in business ethics. The moral status of the corporation is intimately linked with its metaphysical status, for only if the corporation is a distinct moral entity, specifically a moral agent, does the corporation have a distinct moral standing, separate from the entities (individual human persons) who make it up. Of course, the corporation could have an auxiliary or dependent moral status even if the corporation was not a moral agent. While this is in itself an important point, most of what follows will ignore this alternative. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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