09 May 2011

Corporations and Rights (and Duties)

Last week I started a brief discussion here of the moral obligation to keep one's promise, even to a non-human entity like a corporation. The immediate context was a contemporary debate about the morality of strategic defaults by borrowers who owe more to their lender than their property, typically a home purchased in the last half-decade, is worth. My argument drew on something I had written earlier here about the purpose or, in Aristotelian terms, final cause of a corporation.

But is there any connection between my earlier series of posts about Nicholas Wolterstorff's book Justice and the moral nature of the corporate form? Indeed there is. Wolterstorff employs his analytic approach to conclude that corporations too have rights. But how can it be the case that corporation, which are not alive, can have a "worth" that can be disrespected?

Even though corporations are not capable of causal agency, i.e., apart from human agents they can do nothing, corporations nonetheless are capable of rational agency. In other words, a human's acts on behalf of a corporation are those of the corporation and in turn the corporation's agent's acts are counted as that of the corporation, which Wolterstorff calls double agency (p. 364). Quoting from the following page:

Human persons are living organisms capable of rational agency. Social entities [like corporations] confront us with the curious phenomenon of entities capable of rational agency that are not living organisms. Shall we say that such entities do not have lives, on the ground that they are no living organisms? Or shall we say that they do have lives, on the ground that they are capable of rational agency?
Wolterstorff opts for the later. In the case of corporations, it is the power of the state that confers this sufficient simulacrum of living organisms to enable them to acquire rights. Thus, indirectly, and certainly not without human agency, corporate entities have sufficient non-instrumental worth to ground rights. If rights, then duties of others to respect such rights and, equally importantly, the duty to properly regard the rights of others.

No comments:

Post a Comment