Do corporations have moral rights?

Journal of Business Ethics 4 (4):277 - 281 (1985)
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Abstract

My aim in this paper is to explore the notion that corporations have moral rights within the context of a constitutive rules model of corporate moral agency. The first part of the paper will briefly introduce the notion of moral rights, identifying the distinctive feature of moral rights, as contrasted with other moral categories, in Vlastos' terms of overridingness. The second part will briefly summarize the constitutive rules approach to the moral agency of corporations (à la French, Smith, Ozar) and pose the question of the paper. The third part will argue that, since the moral agency of corporations is dependent on the choices of those whose acceptence of the relevant rules constitutes the corporation as a moral agent, the rights of corporations are conventional; that is, they exist because they are so created. Thus, as a first answer, corporations do not have moral rights.But this raises a further question which we must explore. Once a corporation has been constituted, by the acceptance of the relevant rules by the relevant persons, does the corporation then have rights which endure? Can those who have constituted a corporation with certain rights morally change or cancel those rights in medias res without doing some sort of moral violence to the corporation? Do corporations at least have a moral right to persist in the conventional rights with which they were constituted?

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David T. Ozar
Loyola University, Chicago

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