Thursday, February 25, 2016

Corporations aren't persons

  1. It is always wrong for the state to kill a person for non-payment of taxes.
  2. It is sometimes permissible for the state to dissolve a corporation for non-payment of taxes.
  3. If corporations are persons, dissolving a corporation is killing a person.
  4. So, corporations aren't persons.

12 comments:

entirelyuseless said...

It would be understandable to make an argument from what is less known to what is more known, when someone denies the more known but might not deny the less known. But everyone knows that corporations are not persons. So this argument seems pretty pointless to me.

skip said...

The first statement should read "It is always wrong for the state to kill a human person for non-payment of taxes." So at best you have demonstrated that all legal persons are not human persons.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It is murder to kill a person for a crime that doesn't call for death. Nonpayment of taxes doesn't call for death. Humanity doesn't enter directly into this.

Alexander R Pruss said...

entirelyuseless:

Well, almost everyone knows. :-)

I do suspect that on some functionalist accounts of personhood, corporations end up being persons. So much the worse for these functionalist accounts.

skip said...

Your reasoning begs the question.

skip said...

It is not clear that dissolving a corporate person (if such a thing exists) is actually killing a person. To kill is to cause the separation of the soul from the body. Corporations do not have bodies. So dissolving a corporation is not killing.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Causing the cessation of existence of a person is sufficient for killing the person.

MiloŇ° said...

I think that idea of corporations as persons (and group agency more general) have very prominent place in contemporary political philosophy pace first commentator. Look for example this fine review: https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/27604-group-agency-the-possibility-design-and-status-of-corporate-agents/

Jeremy Pierce said...

I don't think very many people think corporations actually are persons, just that it makes sense to put them into the legal category of persons, because that makes it easier to hold them accountable, expect them to pay taxes, and so on. There's virtually no debate about whether that should be done, either. It only becomes controversial when you move from the ways that corporations have been treated the same as person to some new way of doing so. But the arguments for doing so usually have some analogy with ways we already do so, so they're prima facie good arguments unless you can show some relevant disanalogy.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

"Nonpayment of taxes doesn't call for death." Once the IRS (Infernal Revenue Service) gets done with you, you're gonna wish it did. :-)

MelancholyDane said...

I like it.

It is not always wrong for the state to end the life of a person for non-payment of taxes. It is always wrong for the state to end the life of a human being for non-payment of taxes.

It is probably relevant that the state has the power to resurrect a corporation whose life has ended. There are interesting questions there about whether the corporation that is resurrected is numerically identical with the corporation whose life was ended. But this may not be that deep of a problem, given that we could almost certainly find sufficient identity conditions in the unique identifiers (i.e., corporate name, etc.) that must be filed with the state upon application for incorporation.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's not just human beings that are wrong for the state to end the lives of for non-payment of taxes. It would be equally wrong for the state to execute Martians, Klingons, angels or genuinely intelligent computers (if such are possible) for non-payment of taxes. So we need to look for a morally salient relevant category of things that includes these and others like them. And the best choice for that category is *persons*.

Here's a more Kantian approach. It's wrong to use persons (whether human or Martian or angelic or even divine) as mere means. It's not wrong to use corporations as mere means. (You can legitimately start a corporation of three people simply in order to enrich the three people, with no care for the good of the corporation as such.) So corporations aren't persons.