Do corporations have minds of their own?

Philosophical Psychology 30 (3):265-297 (2017)
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Corporations have often been taken to be the paradigm of an organization whose agency is autonomous from that of the successive waves of people who occupy the pattern of roles that define its structure, which licenses saying that the corporation has attitudes, interests, goals, and beliefs which are not those of the role occupants. In this essay, I sketch a deflationary account of agency-discourse about corporations. I identify institutional roles with a special type of status function, a status role, in which the collectively accepted function is expressed in part through its occupier’s intentional expression of her agency in that role. I identify institutions as systems of status roles and show how this is compatible with seeing the agency of institutions generally, even over time periods in which there is complete change in role occupiers, as a matter of the contributions only of individual agents. I explain how the reduction of the institution to its members is compatible with its potentially having had a completely different membership. I show in the case of the corporation in particular that, once we see its origins and function, the surface features of legal discourse about corporate agency are misleading and are compatible with a deflationary account of corporate agency. I show in connection with this that the corporation is to be identified with its shareholders, and that where a corporation separates ownership and control, its managers and employees are proxy agents of the shareholders doing business under the corporate form. Finally, I canvass the legitimate ways of construing ordinary talk about corporate intention, belief, and so on, in light of this, none of which support the attribution of genuine agency or intentionality to any group per se associated with the corporation.
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