Essay: Corporate personhood is a moral distraction

For hundreds and even thousands of years, legal concepts like corporate personhood have contributed positively to the economic and political organisation of our lives, allowing us (for example) to contract with hundreds of individuals simultaneously should they coordinate together under one corporate entity. A reduction in transaction costs and an increase in efficiency are but some of the practical benefits.

Economic gains notwithstanding, legal abstractions can get in the way of our moral thinking. Indeed, apart from a full exercise of practical wisdom, legal abstractions can reduce the objects of our moral concern to, say, property rights alone or to the potentially limitless rights of corporate persons. This reduction polarises moral discourse and risks the formation of poor policy decisions.

My latest short essay addresses this issue as it relates to corporate religious liberty disputes, and it holds out Saint Thomas Aquinas as a source of moral clarity.

Head over to the Canopy Forum at Emory University to read the full text, a quick 8-minute read.


My approach to corporate religious liberty advocates a prudent extraction of the abstractions that tend to obfuscate our moral discourse. Metaphors distract from the actual moral subjects involved. Individual rights, when too narrowly focused upon, risk deracinating group life. And the moral concept of religious institutions tends to gloss over ethically salient distinctions between churches and for-profit corporations. 

– ‘Extracting Our Abstractions’ on the Canopy Forum

Many thanks to the Canopy Forum for the opportunity to reflect and to share ideas from my book.

Published by Edward A. David

Responsible business. Law and religion. Ethics in public life.

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