Thursday, January 21, 2010

Free Speech For Corporations?

Look, I'm a philosopher, not a lawyer. But as a philosopher, I don't understand how corporations are supposed to have free speech rights. Rights like that are for things with minds, like individual humans. Maybe space aliens, if they exist, or dolphins if they're smart enough. But not golf balls or buildings or corporations. Corporations don't really have minds like humans do, and when you talk about them having desires or opinions you're just employing a useful metaphor. Real free speech rights are for things with real opinions.

The whole thing about corporations being persons is just a legal fiction invented for our convenience, and we can stop taking it seriously when it stops being convenient. I mean, you don't give 18-year-old corporations a right to vote, do you? Uh, I hope I'm not giving John Roberts ideas...

6 comments:

Trevor Jackson said...

I like The Corporation's take: If corporations have the rights of individuals then they can be analyzed according to the DSMIV and, it turns out, they're sociopaths.

corvus said...

Goddamn, This has just been the shittiest week yet of the New Decade. And this New Decade has been pretty shitty.

Brock said...

I don't like the decision any more than you do, but your philosophical objection seems a bit odd coming from a fellow utilitarian.

Utilitarianism entails that rights themselves are, at best, legal fictions invented for our convenience. So from a utilitarian perspective, merely noting the metaphysical difference between sentient beings and corporations is not sufficient to establish that corporations have no "rights" (placed in scare quotes to indicate the utilitarian understanding of the term).

Neil Sinhababu said...

True enough, Brock. But then all this stuff is supposed to be responsive to the underlying utility facts. So (1) if we decide that campaign finance limits are right given those utility facts, you don't get this decision. And (2) some of the utilitarian arguments that make sense in the individual case aren't going to apply in the corporate case. Like, corporations aren't going to feel resentful emotions and become dysfunctional members of the political community if you muzzle them.

karl said...

Okay, corporations have the right of free speech -- do they also have the right to bear arms? Are public disclosure laws a violation of their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights?

Anonymous said...

Neil -- the ruling is obviously a bad one, but I am not sure your objection is the right attack. The issue of whether ascriptions of intentional mental states to collectives are literal or not seems to me an open debate. See http://www.iep.utm.edu/coll-int/

Sam