Do Corporations Have Minds?

Joshua Knobe in the New York Times:

15stoneWeb-blog480Back in 2007, Viacom filed a copyright infringement lawsuit. It alleged that the defendants had created a website that was hosting copyrighted Viacom videos, including everything from the “The Colbert Report” to “SpongeBob SquarePants.” But that was not all. Viacom made a series of allegations about the defendants’ mental states. It alleged that they specifically “intended” to host these illegal videos, that they were doing so “knowingly” and with “brazen disregard” for the law.

So far, all of this may seem perfectly straightforward. But here is the surprising part. The defendants in the suit were not individual human beings. They were YouTube and its parent company, Google. In other words, the entities that were alleged to have all of these intentions and attitudes were actually corporations.

Cases like this one have long puzzled philosophers. In everyday speech, it seems perfectly correct to say that a corporation can “intend,” “know,” “believe,” “want” or “decide.” Yet, when we begin thinking the matter over from a more theoretical standpoint, it may seem that there is something deeply puzzling here. What could people possibly mean when they talk about corporations in this way?

More here.