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Corporate Moral Responsibility: When it Might Matter


The debate over corporate moral responsibility has become a fixture in business ethics research and teaching. Only rarely, however, does the sizable literature on that question consider whether the debate has important practical implications. This article examines that question from a corporate control perspective. After assuming corporate moral responsibility’s existence for purposes of argument, the article concludes that such responsibility makes a difference in cases where it is present but personal responsibility is absent. Then the article tries to identify the forces that diminish personal responsibility when corporate responsibility exists. The most important such forces, it concludes, spring from the socialization processes people undergo when they enter groups. One example is the well-known phenomenon of groupthink, which can exculpate individuals by rendering them justifiably ignorant of foreseeable risks of harm.

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Albert Flores & Deborah G. Johnson : 1983, “Collective Responsibility and Professional Roles,” Ethics, vol. 93, pp. 53745.

Jan Edward Garrett : 1989, “Unredistributable Corporate Moral Responsibility,” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 8, pp. 53545.

Michael J. Phillips : 1992, “Corporate Moral Personhood and Three Conceptions of the Corporation,” Business Ethics Quarterly, vol. 2, pp. 43559.

Paul B. Thompson : 1986, “Collective Responsibility and Professional Roles,” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 5, pp. 15154.

W. H. Walsh : 1970: “Pride, Shame, and Responsibility,” Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 20, pp. 113.

Patricia H. Werhane : 1989, “Corporate and Individual Moral Responsibility: A Reply to Jan Garrett,” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 8, pp. 82122.

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Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
  • URL: /core/journals/business-ethics-quarterly
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