Bill Wilhelm, McIntire’s William G. Shenkir Eminent Professor of Commerce, was recently recognized for his research, earning Business Ethics Quarterly’s 2022 Outstanding Article award.
The co-authored paper, “Relationships, Authority, and Reasons: A Second-Personal Account of Corporate Moral Agency,” was chosen by the journal’s associate editors from a list of standout articles and then selected as the winning article by a three-person committee. The article represents Wilhelm’s collaboration with University of Oxford’s Alan Morrison and Esade’s Rita Mota, previously at Oxford.
Wilhelm explains that the article addresses commercial situations in which a customer or client feels that they have been morally wronged by one or more employees of a corporation, but criticism is directed, at least in part, at the corporation at large.
“Moral reasoning and accountability are generally associated with individual people and their capacity for reasoning,” he says. “Our article identifies conditions necessary for a corporation to be held morally responsible and to assure that it responds constructively to criticism.” He notes that he and his co-authors’ analysis calls attention to the importance of corporate culture, reputation, and effective communication in achieving some semblance of moral agency at the corporate level.
According to Wilhelm, the article originated from a prior body of economically focused work detailing the decline of concerns about positive corporate culture and reputation in the last half-century that has led to undermined trust in financial markets.
“We’re not likely to turn back the clock on the technological advances behind these changes, and so Alan Morrison and I began thinking deeply about whether, and how, moral reasoning might serve as a counterbalance,” Wilhelm says. He adds that those questions were essentially the motivation for his Finance and Society course, which teaches undergraduate students to make better judgments regarding public debate about financial markets.