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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 16, Issue 1, Spring 2002

John Forge
Pages 13-32

Corporate Responsibility Revisited

The fact that corporate responsibility supervenes on human action implies that there are two possible kinds of account of the former, namely reductive accounts in which the responsibility of the corporation devolves down without remainder to its officers, and those in which it does not. Two versions of the latter are discussed here. The first, due to Peter French, tries to satisfy the supervenience requirement by defining corporate action in terms of human action. It is argued that the corresponding view of intention, intentions as plans, does not serve to show how the defined notion of corporate action also brings with it attributions of responsibility. An alternative account, taking its point of departure from Feinberg’s ideas of vicarious and collective responsibility, is therefore proposed. It is argued that when officers of a corporation substitute the “decision-making mechanism” of the corporation for their own, then responsibility, but not action, can transfer to the corporation. Furthermore, it is argued that this nonreductivist account can be defended against the reductivist charge that attributions of moral responsibility to corporations is a category mistake.

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