Corporate Moral Credit

This webinar will be hosted via Zoom, please register using the link.

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the most recent spate of publicized police violence against Black people in the United States, many companies have enacted a variety of anti-racist policies and programs. For instance, Salesforce made a public commitment to double the number of Black employees in leadership positions, to require implicit bias and equity training of all employees by year’s end, and to spend $100 million on Black-owned businesses and suppliers, among other measures. Taken at face value, there is something morally good about this corporate response to ongoing problems of systemic racism. Companies such as Salesforce purport to be guided by a sense of justice and empathy for the victims of racism. But a more cynical take suggests that, behind this buffed veneer of fairness and compassion, the companies are ultimately only focused on protecting themselves from financial losses due to public criticism of, and employee dissatisfaction with, their prior inaction about racial injustice. In raising these concerns, what we are wondering, in part, is whether companies deserve credit for doing what is right. This question about corporate moral creditworthiness concerns the positive side of corporate moral responsibility, the negative side of which is the more commonly discussed question of when companies are blameworthy for doing what is wrong. I offer a broadly functionalist account of how companies can act from morally creditworthy motives, in light of a serious challenge to the claim that they can. This challenge is posed by the Strawsonian idea that morally creditworthy motivation involves being guided by moral attitudes of “goodwill” for others, such as respect and care. Given how these attitudes involve affect and/or phenomenal consciousness, it is doubtful that companies can be guided by them. But I show that what matters about being guided by moral attitudes of goodwill is being directly concerned for others, and that such direct concern is achieved by the practical functioning of those attitudes – the roles they play in practical deliberation. Companies can realize this practical functioning through their decision-making and information-gathering procedures without having the affective and/or phenomenal states associated with moral attitudes of goodwill. I also explore how a company’s moral creditworthiness, or lack thereof, should shape our response to it.