Individual Actions and Corporate Moral Responsibility: A (Reconstituted) Kantian Approach

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This paper examines the resources of Kantian ethics to establish corporate moral responsibility. I defend Matthew Altman’s claim that Kantian ethics cannot hold corporations morally responsible for corporate malfeasance. Rather than following Altman in interpreting this inability as a reason not to use Kantian ethics, however, I argue that the Kantian framework is correct: business ethicists should not seek to hold corporations morally responsible. Instead, they should use Kantian (and/or other ethical-theoretical) resources to criticize the actions of individual businesspeople. I set forth a model for decomposing business actions into their individual parts and reconstituting them in a context-specific “maxim” that Kantian ethics can evaluate. The reconstituted form of Kantian ethics that I defend is better able to manage decision-making complexity than traditional interpretations. To demonstrate the usefulness of my approach, I apply it to the recent Wells Fargo bogus-accounts scandal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)929-942
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 28 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Business and International Management


  • Banking ethics
  • Corporate moral responsibility
  • Cross-selling
  • Kantian ethics
  • Wells Fargo

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