Morality of unequal autonomy: reviving Kant's concept of status for stakeholders

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2014-06
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Castro, Susan V. H.
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Castro, Susan V. H. 2014. Morality of unequal autonomy: reviving Kant's concept of status for stakeholders. Journal of Business Ethics, June 2014, vol. 121:no. 4:ppg 593-606

Abstract

Though we cherish freedom and equality, there are human relations we commonly take to be morally permissible despite the fact that they essentially involve an inequality specifically of freedom, i.e., parental and fiduciary relations. In this article, I argue that the morality of these relations is best understood through a very old and dangerous concept, the concept of status. Despite their historic and continuing abuses, status relations are alive and well today, I argue, because some of them are necessary. We must therefore carefully specify the conditions in which such status relations may morally obtain, as well as the duties of virtue and duties of right to which all parties are subject when it does (including a duty of care) to clearly articulate the ways in which these putatively moral status relations that essentially involve an asymmetry of autonomy (status relations) can go well or badly even within the context of the Kantian tradition from which our current legal and social practices arose. To this end, I offer Kant's own concept of status as a promising one because in Kant's theory, status is a nexus of virtue and right that is reducible to neither property nor contract but akin to each in familiar ways. Once status is admitted as an alternative to property and contract, status may be extended beyond Kant's domestic paradigm, most perspicuously to institutional ethics. In this article, I sketch a status-based theory of stakeholding that locates environmental impact, institutional oppression, and other significant features of our moral landscape within a Kantian framework of duties rich enough to more accurately characterize the complexities of stakeholding than current tradition has allowed.

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