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Social Theory and Practice

Volume 43, Issue 3, July 2017

John Hasnas
Pages 589-612
DOI: 10.5840/soctheorpract20178315

Does Corporate Moral Agency Entail Corporate Freedom of Speech?

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court held that corporate speech is entitled to the protection of the First Amendment. The Court’s argument was that the First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing the viewpoint of any speaker on political subjects and that corporations are speakers with their own viewpoints. This argument has been subject to severe criticism on the ground that corporations are not speakers with viewpoints. Contemporary advocates of corporate moral agency argue that corporations possess the three characteristics that are necessary for moral responsibility–autonomy, normative judgment, and the capacity for self-control–and hence, that corporations are “conversable agents” that speak with voices of their own. In this article, I contend that the argument offered by advocates of corporate moral agency both undermines the primary criticism of Citizens United and provides a reason to believe that it is correctly decided.

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