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Corporations, Moral Personhood and the Criminal Law: Much Ado about [almost] Nothing

January 27, 2021 at 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

The Department of Economics, Philosophy and Political Science presents Corporations, Moral Personhood and the Criminal Law: Much Ado about [almost] Nothing, a talk by Dr. Roger Shiner.

Dr. Roger Shiner is an adjunct professor at UBC Okanagan and Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta.

Wednesday, January 27
2:00-3:30pm PST

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Much time and energy in the last several decades has been spent by moral, political and social theorists on arguing both for and against the thesis that corporations are “moral persons”. The thoughts motivating these debates are various. My focus here, however, is a narrow one — on the question whether, and if so how, corporations are moral persons, or have moral personhood, matters for the criminalization of corporate wrongdoing. My thesis is that corporate moral personhood is not necessary for corporations to be properly held accountable by the criminal law for their wrongdoing.

The intuition that corporate moral personhood matters is not hard to unpack. Corporations are creations of law — artificial or legal persons. In theory therefore the state can assign corporations under the criminal law whatever rights and duties it pleases. However, a criminal law that has aspirations to be a regime of criminal justice must make some attempt at least to preserve its integrity by aligning its demands with those of morality.

Where ordinary folks — natural persons — are concerned, the criminal law aligns itself with a liberal morality aimed at acknowledging and protecting individual autonomy, paradigmatically by the requirement of mens rea, a guilty mind as a pre-condition of criminal guilt. The criminal law, in other words, is based on the moral personhood of the citizens subject to it. The moral personhood of corporations matters to the criminal law in order to preserve its moral integrity.

The goal of this presentation is to interrogate and ultimately reject the above line of argument while retaining the same broad commitment to the moral integrity of the criminal law. I shall argue that such a commitment demands no more than a sound but metaphysically unambitious concept of corporate agency, rather than the metaphysically ambitious but unsound concept of corporate moral personhood.


January 27, 2021
2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Additional Info

Registration/RSVP Required
Yes (see event description)
Event Type
Policy and Social Change
Alumni, Students