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December 2021 posts

Recent work on the issue of corporate personhood

Corporate personhoodBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming in Law and Society Review is David Gindis' review of Susanna Kim Ripken's book Corporate Personhood, both of which emphasize the complexity of the concept itself, wrapped up as it is in economics and ethics as well as law, political science, and sociology. From Gindis' abstract:

Susanna Ripken is an astute and fair-minded observer of today's corporate personality controversy. The premise of her impressive book is that the corporate personhood puzzle is as complicated as it is vexing because corporate personhood is inherently multidimensional, in a way that mirrors the fact that the corporation is at the same time an economic institution, a legal actor, a cultural artifact, and a political operator, whose actions can be morally praised or condemned. To produce a comprehensive picture of the corporation we need to weave together the different facets highlighted by economics, law, sociology, political science, philosophy, ethics, and other disciplines. So too must we proceed, Ripken persuasively argues, when dealing with corporate personhood. No single discipline is in a position to answer all the important questions corporate personhood raises. An interdisciplinary conversation is required.

The abstract for Ripken's book itself follows:

The topic of corporate personhood has captured the attention of many who are concerned about the increasing presence, power, and influence of corporations in modern society. Recent Supreme Court cases like Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, and Masterpiece Cakeshop - which solidified the free speech and religious liberty rights of corporations and their owners - have heightened the controversy over treating corporations as persons under the law. What does it mean to say that the corporation is a person, and why does it matter? In Corporate Personhood, Susanna Kim Ripken addresses these questions and highlights the complexity of the corporate personhood concept. Using a broad, interdisciplinary framework - incorporating law, economics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, organizational theory, political science, and linguistics - this highly original work explores the complex, multidimensional nature of corporate personhood and its implications for corporate rights and duties.

Readers may also be interested in a recent paper by David Gindis and Abraham Singer titled "The Corporate Baby in the Bathwater: Why Proposals to Abolish Corporate Personhood Are Misguided," forthcoming in Journal of Business Ethics:

The fear that business corporations have claimed unwarranted constitutional protections which have entrenched corporate power has produced a broad social movement demanding that constitutional rights be restricted to human beings and corporate personhood be abolished. We develop a critique of these proposals organized around the three salient rationales we identify in the accompanying narrative, which we argue reflect a narrow focus on large business corporations, a misunderstanding of the legal concept of personhood, and a failure to distinguish different kinds of constitutional rights and the reasons for assigning them. Corporate personhood and corporate constitutional rights are not problematic per se once these notions are decoupled from biological, metaphysical or moral considerations. The real challenge is that we need a principled way of thinking about the priority of human over corporate persons which does not reduce the efficacy of corporate institutions or harm liberal democracies.

Lisa Herzog on "The Epistemic Seduction of Markets" (in The Raven)

RavenBy Mark D. White

In the inaugural issue of The Raven, a literary philosophy magazine*, Lisa Herzog (University of Groningen) combines academic expertise and personal history to scrutinize knowledge-based arguments for the market in "The Epistemic Seduction of Markets." From the end of her introduction:

I have concluded that the epistemic argument for markets needs to be heavily qualified, if not put on its head: it is not an argument for “free” markets but for the careful regulation of markets. The “invisible hand” can only, if ever, do its work on material that has been diligently prepared, and continues to be monitored, by many visible hands. Otherwise, the result may be a mere chimera of the epistemic mechanism that I learned about when studying economics: it may seem to work fine on the surface but fail to realize the goals it is supposed to achieve, such as genuine preference satisfaction and the avoidance of inefficient economic behavior. This misleading image of the market can keep us trapped when we think about institutional design, inserting a pro-market bias instead of allowing for an objective evaluation of alternatives. And given the need to redesign many economic institutions in the face of climate change and massive socio-economic inequality, we cannot afford to be held captive by a picture, as Wittgenstein had once put it.

An intriguing read, and just one part of an encouraging start for a unique new publication.


* From the "About" page on their website:

The Raven is a magazine of original philosophy written for intellectually curious readers with or without academic training in the discipline. It aims to revive an essayistic style of philosophy that was more common in academic venues as recently as thirty years ago but has gradually disappeared — that is, to publish contributions to the “literature” that deserve to be called literature.

Alexandrova and Fabian on the challenge of thick concepts for science

Eur jrnl phil scienceBy Mark D. White

An article forthcoming in the European Journal for Philosophy of Science by Anna Alexandrova and Mark Fabian, titled "Democratising Measurement: or Why Thick Concepts Call for Coproduction," discusses the issues that thick concepts, those that involve both description and evaluation, pose for the sciences, using well-being as an example, and proposes a novel way to recognize both aspects.

From the abstract:

Thick concepts, namely those concepts that describe and evaluate simultaneously, present a challenge to science. Since science does not have a monopoly on value judgments, what is responsible research involving such concepts? Using measurement of wellbeing as an example, we first present the options open to researchers wishing to study phenomena denoted by such concepts. We argue that while it is possible to treat these concepts as technical terms, or to make the relevant value judgment in-house, the responsible thing to do, especially in the context of public policy, is to make this value judgment through a legitimate political process that includes all the stakeholders of this research. We then develop a participatory model of measurement based on the ideal of co-production. To show that this model is feasible and realistic, we illustrate it with a case study of co-production of a concept of thriving conducted by the authors in collaboration with a UK anti-poverty charity Turn2us.

Fabian has an excellent Twitter thread tracing out some of the central concepts and findings of the paper here:

Igersheim on Rawls and economics

RawlsBy Mark D. White

A new working paper from Herrade Igersheim (BETA, University of Strasbourg, CNRS, University of Lorraine) titled "Rawls and the Economists: The (Im)possible Dialogue" offers a unique perspective on the relationship between the great philosopher and the field that would adopt his thinking. From the abstract:

Although falling within the scope of political and moral philosophy, it is well known that A Theory of Justice has also had a great impact on economists. As such, Rawls put great emphasis on his desire to combine economics and philosophy, and particularly to deal with rational choice theory, notably and famously claiming that “the theory of justice is a part, perhaps the most significant part, of the theory of rational choice” (1971, 15). After the publication of A Theory of Justice, aspects of it came in for criticism – often very vehement – by economists such as Arrow (1973), Musgrave (1974), Harsanyi (1975) and later by Sen (1980). Rawls’s immediate answers (1974a,b in particular) showed that he first wanted to maintain a dialogue with the economists, but the later evolutions of his works (1993, 2001) clearly demonstrated that he had removed himself from the economic realm, returning to his initial philosophical territory in order to overcome the internal inconsistencies of A Theory of Justice. In this paper, by focusing extensively on the letter exchanges between Rawls and the economists before and after the publication of A Theory of Justice, I attempt to shed light on other (complementary) elements which can explain Rawls’s retreat from the realm of economics, and his progressive disenchantment regarding the possibility of a dialogue on equal footing between economists and philosophers.

New book: Heilmann and Reiss (eds), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics

Routledge handbook of phil of econBy Mark D. White

Just released is The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics, edited by Conrad Heilmann and Julian Reiss. From the publisher's website:

The most fundamental questions of economics are often philosophical in nature, and philosophers have, since the very beginning of Western philosophy, asked many questions that current observers would identify as economic. The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Economics is an outstanding reference source for the key topics, problems, and debates at the intersection of philosophical and economic inquiry. It captures this field of countless exciting interconnections, affinities, and opportunities for cross-fertilization.

The table of contents is reproduced below—I was honored to be invited to contribute a chapter, which appears in Part IV.

1. Introduction  Conrad Heilmann and Julian Reiss

Part I: Rationality

2. History of Utility Theory  Ivan Moscati

3. The Economics and Philosophy of Risk  H. Orri Stefánsson

4. Behavioral Welfare Economics and Consumer Sovereignty  Guilhem Lecouteux

5. The Economic Concept of a Preference  Kate Vredenburgh

6. Economic Agency and the Subpersonal Turn in Economics  James D. Grayot

Part II: Cooperation and Interaction

7. Game Theory and Rational Reasoning  Jurgis Karpus and Mantas Radzvilas

8. Institutions, Rationality, and Coordination  Camilla Colombo and Francesco Guala

9. As If Social Preference Models  Jack Vromen

10. Exploitation and Consumption  Benjamin Ferguson

Part III: Methodology

11. Philosophy of Economics? Three Decades of Bibliometric History  Francois Claveau, Alexandre Truc, Olivier Santerre, and Luis Mireles-Flores

12. Philosophy of Austrian Economics  Alexander Linsbichler

13. Representation  Hsiang Ke-Chao

14. Finance and Financial Economics: A Philosophy of Science Perspective  Melissa Vergara-Fernández and Boudewijn de Bruin

Part IV: Values

15. Values in Welfare Economics  Antoinette Baujard

16. Measurement and Value Judgements  Julian Reiss

17. Reflections on the State of Economics and Ethics  Mark D. White

18. Well-Being  Mauro Rossi

19. Fairness and Fair Division  Stefan Wintein and Conrad Heilmann

Part V: Causality and Explanation

20. Causality and Probability  Tobias Henschen

21. Causal Contributions in Economics  Christopher Clarke

22. Explanation in Economics  Philippe Verreault-Julien

23. Modeling the Possible to Modeling the Actual  Jennifer S. Jhun

Part VI: Experimentation and Simulation

24. Experimentation in Economics  Michiru Nagatsu

25. Field Experiments  Judith Favereau

26. Computer Simulations in Economics  Aki Lehtinen and Jaakko Kuorikoski

27. Evidence-Based Policy  Donal Khosrowi

Part VII: Evidence

28. Economic Theory and Empirical Science  Robert Northcott

29. Philosophy of Econometrics  Aris Spanos

30. Statistical Significance Testing in Economics  William Peden and Jan Sprenger

31. Quantifying Health  Daniel M. Hausman

Part VIII: Policy

32. Freedoms, Political Economy, and Liberalism  Sebastiano Bavetta

33. Freedom and Markets  Constanze Binder

34. Policy Evaluation Under Severe Uncertainty: A Cautious, Egalitarian Approach  Alex Voorhoeve

35. Behavioral Public Policy: One Name, Many Types. A Mechanistic Perspective  Till Grüne-Yanoff

36. The Case for Regulating Tax Competition  Peter Dietsch