Description Richard T. de George's "Moral Person View" and highlight a strength and weakness of his view.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Briefly, de George'smoral person viewrelates to corporations, ascribing to them the knowing, willful intent of acting agents. As such, de George contends, corporations have moral responsibility for their actions just as knowing, willful, intentioned acting agents who are individual human beings have moral responsibility for theirs. Corporations here, of course, are described in their legal definitions as whole, unified entities. According to de George, a corporation that suffers an oil spill or a radiation leak through intentional choices of will that were known to bear undue risk are held morally accountable and responsible for the consequences and results of the harm done by the spill or leak. If, on the other hand, the corporate agent acts without knowledge, without willful intent, then it--the entity--bears no moral guilt, thus no moral responsibility.

A strength of de George's proposition is that corporations are held responsible for acting according to the knowledge they possess and for the consequences of being an agent with will and intention to act. A weakness of the position is that, as opponents contend, corporations are legal entities having legalrights but no moralrights. If corporations have no moral rights, the argument goes, then corporations cannot logically have moral responsibilities.

One serious difficulty with the whole discussion is that corporations are a legal construct to facilitate financial, tax, and other legal processes and proceedings. Outside of this framework with its legally defined rights and responsibilities, the designation of corporation has very little practical meaning. The entity that is in reality the corporation are the board of directors and executive officers that comprise the corporation, that assimilate the knowledge, that act upon their wills, that form and express intent, and that comprise the agent(s) of action. These individual human beings comprising the agent of will and intent and action that is the corporation have moral responsibility jointly and individually as surely as they individually and jointly have moral rights. Thus, the legal entity of a corporation is comprised of individual human beings who cannot escape their moral responsibilities under any guise.  


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