Philosophy colloquium: Kendy Hess

Title: The Inevitability of Corporate Character

By Kendy M. Hess (Holy Cross, Philosophy)

Date: Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Time: 1730-1900 

Room: H232

Abstract: If we assume — as I will, here — that firms and other highly organized groups can qualify as rationally autonomous actors in their own rights, I argue that they will necessarily possess Aristotelian characters as well. I will begin with a brief introduction to collective agency in general and corporate agency in particular. I will sketch some of the very different mechanisms that enable rational autonomy at the level of a collective agent and draw out some of the philosophical implications, then turn to the argument about character. Making this argument requires us to abstract somewhat from the human version of character that Aristotle developed, but the abstraction changes less than might be imagined. With characters, corporate agents like firms can also have virtues, vices, enkratic and akratic states, and all the rest.

The more interesting question, as I will suggest at the end, is not whether corporate agents can have virtues and vices but what counts as a virtue or a vice for such an entity. For example, claims from Carr (1968), French (1984), and Heath (2014), among others, about the exotic nature of business entities and market transactions might seem to suggest that the “virtues” of a firm, at least — the excellences of character that enable it to navigate its particular social setting well — might include ruthlessness, dishonesty, and greed. Aristotle again provides everything we need to refute such claims, and to guide us back toward holding collective agents to the same moral standards and human agents … which is a relief, for those of us who have to live with them.

About the speaker: Click here.





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