The Instigator
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The Contender
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Corporations are people.

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Post Voting Period
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after 1 vote the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/12/2012 Category: Economics
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,887 times Debate No: 26182
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (2)
Votes (1)




In this round, I am advocating that corporations are people.

I'll allow my opponent to begin for the most part. I'll briefly point out that corporations are legally regarded as people by the United States Judicial System and share many of the same characteristics of individuals.

I look forward to an exciting debate and a hopefully formidable opponent.


If I have not bedeviled my my debate partner here enough already, I shall be happy to accept this new challenge of his, as well. In any case, I am delighted to have found it, and thank him for having presented it.

Are Corporations "People?"

I think that I am well advised to advance cautiously, and expect some semantic ambush here; it is absurd on it's face to think that corporations represent some previously undiscovered type of high primate, newly recognized as something more than a distant cousin of homo sapiens. I anticipate that my partner will attempt to describe corporations as "people" in much the same way that the American people are "People."

As I look over the Google Online Dictionary, I learn that my fears may be justified. One definition of "People" includes groups of people - as in "those people, standing over there."


However, there is a problem with using semantics to "win" these sorts of contests. That is, there may be a 'catch' that goes unnoticed, but the use of such trickery veers very close to fallacy - the specific fallacy types that first come to my mind are straw manning (the use of the language was unintentional, and does not represent the true argument being presented); the Red Herring (the semantic switch constitutes a distracting change of subject); and Special Pleading (ignoring the evidence presented in order to score points on unrelated arguments.) I am sure there are others.

I will therefore, use the word "people" to mean "human," just like everyone else does. Further, I will interpret the word "people" as being a plural form of "person." As it relates to this debate, I will be countering the following argument:

"A corporation is a person"

Just as much as I will be countering the pluralized form of the argument:

"Corporations are people."

I am more or less certain that my partner will protest this usage, and argue that what he intended to say was that "corporations are (groups of) people." However, this is not necessarily the case. It is entirely possible for a corporation to exist - and to not be composed of people at all. The legal agreement between the state and any given corporate charter is the sum total of corporate personhood - the entirety of the corporation's board itself could just as easily be made up of monkeys as people - or rather more likely, dead persons (in the case of older, defunct corporations whose charter has yet to expire). Therefore, as it is possible that non-human corporations could exist, or corporations could exist that are completely without any active human membership, the statement that "Corporations are people" cannot always be a true statement. A better means of expression:

"Some corporations have human memberships."

I should also point out that the proofing tactic of reversibility also fails to uphold the premise. Reversibility, for readers that are unfamiliar with the practice, goes like this: If A=B, then B=A. If two things are identical, then they are also interchangeable. In other words, we can replace a particular word with its definition, with no loss of coherence. In this case, reversibility fails. If corporations are people, then people must also be corporations. Clearly, this is absurd, since people must necessarily always be individualized; I am a member of a coporation, but I am not ten people.

In answering this challenge it occurred to me to ask myself, "why do we have this? Why is this, of all things, not taken for granted?" If Martians from Mars were to arrive on earth, green, antenna-bearing, but otherwise able to do many things that humans can do - they would not be called humans. Yes, they could incorporate, and follow other earthling laws besides. Why should corporations be treated so generously? With some caffeine, I did some research - and developed one likely explanation. "Corporations are people" has become a sort of rallying cry for the modern conservative movement. Ridiculed by the Left, the Right has sought to defend this notion on the grounds that the hated liberal would find it noxious. I feel that this is a simple in-group affirmation - and makes no sense outside of that usage. Therefore, we must defend humanity from becoming collectivized and corporatized, in order that we may refute a simple ad hominem taunt.

But why would any sane person think this to begin with? I assume that it may derive from a series of SCOTUS* (Supreme Court) decisions that have largely found that corporations can sue and be sued, taxed, and negotiate contractual agreements as single entities - and participants in these legal agreements are protected by the 14th Amendment. [1] However, this was not some Frankenstein experiment to create life - it was a simple legal agreement between the state and the new entity that was designed for the convenience of the public.

I have mentioned that there are no legal requirements that corporations be made up of human people, either as individuals or groups. I think that I should produce at least one example of this in order to disprove entirely the notion that corporations are necessarily people. The town of Lewis, Vermont, legally incorporated, has had many periods in its history when not a single living person made up any part of the legal entity. Therefore, this 'corporation' (towns are corporations, just as are labor unions and national governments - not a lot of people know this) was not "people" in any sense of the word - it was not made up of people, it was not operated by people, and it had no decisions made on its behalf by people - because the entire corporation often had no people in it anywhere. [2]

Therefore, the statement "corporations are people" cannot be true in all cases. In order to have a semantically compelling argument, my partner would have needed to state the argument: "Sometimes (usually), corporations have people in them" instead of the more definitive "Corporations are people." In other words, I can demonstrate that corporations are not always people, and my partner cannot demonstrate that they always are. Can the statement ever be true? Sure. But not in the generalized sense indicated by the title of this debate.

For the record, I am not making any definitive statement here. I am not attempting to fully argue that corporations are - or are not - people. I am simply testing the premise that they necessarily must be. I want to state this explicitly, in case there exists any misunderstanding as to what my role is. The premise is that corporations are people, and it is my task to demonstrate that this may not always be true.

Therefore, my counter argument, as of this round, is:

Corporations cannot always be considered people:

1. Some corporations do not have any human membership
2. There is no legal reason why the corporation must be comprised of humans
3. The premise is an ad hominem taunt, and cannot actually be discussed



* I enjoy using "SCOTUS" instead of The Supreme Court of the United States, because it saves time and space, and I feel that it is insulting to the high court.
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my partner for engaging in another debate – he is among the most eloquent debaters I have faced thus far, and am extremely pleased to debate him once more on an issue related to Citizens United.

Firstly, I would like to clarify that this resolution is not a semantic ambush; I am not going to delve into a semantics game with my partner. I would like to debate the concept of corporate personhood, and whether it is just for them to be regarded as such.

Legally speaking, corporations are people. There is voluminous legal precedence for and protecting the doctrine of corporate personhood, or indirectly related to it:
  1. Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) - Corporate charters are ruled to have constitutional protection.
  2. Munn v. State of Illinois (1876) - Property cannot be used to unduly expropriate wealth from a community (later reversed).
  3. Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886) - The substance of this case (a tax dispute) is of little significance, but this fateful case subsequently was cited as precedent for granting corporations constitutional rights.
  4. Noble v. Union River Logging Railroad Company (1893) - A corporation first successfully claims Bill of Rights protection (5th Amendment)
  5. Lochner v. New York (1905) - States cannot interfere with “private contracts” between workers and corporation — marks the ascension of “substantive due process” (later mitigated after President Roosevelt threatend to add Justices to the Court).
  6. Liggett v. Lee (1933) - Chain store taxes prohibited as violation of corporations’ “due process” rights.
  7. Ross v. Bernhard (1970)- 7th Amendment right (jury trial) granted to corporations.
  8. U.S. v. Martin Linen Supply (1976) - A corporation successfully claims 5th Amendment protection against double jeopardy.
  9. Marshall v. Barlow (1978) - The Court creates 4th Amendment protection for corporations — federal inspectors must obtain a search warrant for a safety inspection on corporate property.
  10. First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978) - Struck down a Massachusetts law that banned corporate spending to influence state ballot initiatives, even spending by corporate political action committees. Spending money to influence politics is now a corporate “right.” Justice Rehnquist’s dissent is a recommended read.
  11. Austin v. Michigan Chamer of Commer (1990) - Upheld limits on corporate spending in elections.
  12. Thomson v. Western States Medical Center (2002)
  13. Nike v Kasky (2002) - Nike claims California cannot require factual accuracy of the corporation in its PR campaigns. California’s Supreme Court disagreed. The U.S. Supreme Court took up the case on appeal, then issued a non-ruling in 2003.
  14. Randall v Sorrell (2006) While this case dealt with the legality of Vermont’s contribution limits, not corporations directly, it carried important implications for corporate political influence.
  15. Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (2010). In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overrules Austin and a century of federal legislative precedent to proclaim broad electioneering rights for corporations.
  16. Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Attorney General of Montana The U.S. Supreme Court overruled Montana’s Supreme Court ruling, which had upheld a challenge to the state’s century-old ban on corporate electioneering.
People can be defined as the “plurality of persons considered as a whole” [1]. Corporate personhood is defined as the legal concept that a corporation may sue and be sued in court in the same way as natural persons or unincorporated associations of persons. I therefore ask that the audience and my partner both understand that I am not regarding a corporation as a single person; it is an entity composed of persons under law.

Therefore, as it is possible that non-human corporations could exist, or corporations could exist that are completely without any active human membership, the statement that "Corporations are people" cannot always be a true statement.

“Corporation”, deriving from corpus, the Latin word for “body”, or a “body of people”, can truly only refer to a body of people. Note that the resolution did not specify within the United States, so it is unnecessary to note exceptional legal technicalities that occur in some specific nations. Non-human corporations are by definition, not corporations, and therefore this argument is irrelevant.

The failure of reversibility

My opponent commits the fallacy of composition within this argument and is invalid. Similar arguments can be used to demonstrate the reversibility argument’s fallacious nature:
  1. Humans are living beings.
  2. Living beings are not humans.
  3. Humans are not living beings.

I feel that this is a simple in-group affirmation - and makes no sense outside of that usage. Therefore, we must defend humanity from becoming collectivized and corporatized, in order that we may refute a simple ad hominem taunt.

I’m not sure where my opponent is going with this argument; individuality is not at stake here. The argument I’m making is that corporations can be considered groups of people, both legally and literally. The primary reason for bringing about this issue is to dismiss the notion that corporations are these monstrous legal entities exploiting individual welfare.
The town of Lewis, Vermont, legally incorporated, has had many periods in its history when not a single living person made up any part of the legal entity.

This minor exception to the concept of corporations cannot be used to refute the notion of corporate personhood – by definition, corporations are groups of people; that is the extent to which they will be classified. Any other circumstance is a rare legal and technical obscurity that lies within legislative loopholes.
To broadly refute my opponent’s three primary arguments:

1. Some corporations do not have any human membership

This concept runs contrary to the definition of corporation being discussed here. If corporations are regarded as people, they are people, and therefore these obscure exceptions are extraneous and irrelevant.

2. There is no legal reason why the corporation must be comprised of humans

Within what legal system? There are plenty of different legal systems that have differing definitions of corporations; the holistic concept of corporation is what is being discussed here.

3. The premise is an ad hominem taunt, and cannot actually be discussed

Not particularly. This issue extends to many important events in the world, notably Citizens United v. FEC. Whether corporate personhood is a legitimate concept is what is being discussed here.


Many thanks to my partner, for his recent presentation.

An important distinction between the competing visions of corporate personhood is beginning to emerge, that better illustrates the differences between my partner and I on this issue. He clearly regards corporations as a type of group of people – and I see them as a type of human behavior. I am here arguing that it is best that we perceive corporate charters as a type of group activity and social interaction – and not as any particular type of person.

To make this point clear, I will use the example of “Americans,” which belong to the ‘corporate’ entity of the United States of America. Americans are not “types” of people – they are citizens of this nation, and are able to move in and out of this entity more or less at will. “American” as a type of pluralized “people,” is a concept that exists independently from any accurate description of any particular kind of person. In other words, the question, “is America people?” is almost nonsensical. An “American” is decidedly not a type of person – but rather a description of the group affiliation of these individuals.

What I am attempting to argue is that our language allows certain ‘conceptual shortcuts’ to exist which can cause confusion if we take them too literally. We are parts of groups – we are not groups. Therefore, we cannot be considered to be identical to groups... even considered as a plurality. Because even in groups - we remain individuals.

The US laws in question, that establish the same general rules as might also apply to humans are not entirely relevant – because they do not create humans. My partner mentions these, but they change nothing but the way that US law will behave with regards to corporations.

Non-human corporations are by definition, not corporations, and therefore this argument is irrelevant.

I continue to press this line of reasoning, because I feel that it is central to the discussion, and anything but irrelevant. If it is possible for a corporation to exist – without any human membership – then the debate will become instantly far more difficult for my partner to win. As I am a remorseless troll, I really can’t bring myself to pass up such an opportunity. Therefore, I will not concede that there exist no corporate charters anywhere that have zero human memberships.

I also argue against changing the definition of corporation to exclude those charters that lack such human membership. I argue that the townships with legal charters, but no population, should be held as a credible example of the premise that, “corporations are people” failing to be securely established.

fallacy of composition

Having been accused of a logical fallacy, I am strongly compelled to reply. In my argument, I pointed out that humans and corporations cannot be considered identical, because they are not interchangeable, or reversible. I maintain that this is true, and shall clarify:

1. Humans are living beings, but not identical to other living beings.

2. Humans are “people” but not identical to other people. (Humans are indivisible persons – hence my contention that liberties make no sense on a mass scale, but only as “Individual Liberties.”)

In order for reversibility or interchangeability to work in this context, two persons would have to be identical – which is absurd. If a child dies, the grieving parents will not be consoled much by having another child given to them as a replacement – because reversibility and interchangeability have failed to establish that the two children (the deceased child and the replacement child) are identical. Similarly, no person can be “replaced” with a corporation. Therefore, we can logically prove a dissimilarity.

This concept strikes to the heart of what troubles most observers about the concept; that in order for corporations to become human – then humans would necessarily also become corporatized. Corporations are legally binding agreements between persons and the state. They are not persons themselves, but simply the agreements that these participants have made in order to regulate each other’s behavior. Because people are involved in this process does not change the fact that corporations are entirely comprised of these agreements. The people themselves may even move out of the arrangement, leaving the corporation itself without human membership.

Under what legal system could a corporation exist that has no human membership?

Our current legal system allows for a madman to leave an entire charter in the hands of his wife’s poodle. In fact, should the laws governing corporations change, then so shall the nature of the corporations themselves. When a corporate charter expires, this does not represent an “execution;” all of the humans “survive.” My point? That corporations should be considered agreements between people – subject to the whims of those people involved…and not to be confused with the actual people themselves. The corporation is a changeable agreement to interact in a certain way – not a living entity itself – only the agreement by which those people agree to interact.

To underscore – you are not what you own. You are not your job. You are not your family, and you are not your country.

Corporations can be considered groups of persons

Yes, corporations can be considered groups of people – but according to the court cases cited by my partner, this is not always the case – corporations are often considered to be single entities, not groups. The logic behind this treatment is to provide a level of convenience in dealing with these charters that makes such negotiations with them possible. The cases that have been presented by my partner help me to demonstrate this point, by explicitly pointing out that the “single entity” designation exists for the protection of those who enter into legal arrangements with these entities.


1. We have not been presented with a compelling reason why towns with populations of zero should not be considered to be corporations. Towns must incorporate, and this charter does not expire simply because residents leave town.

2. Corporations, although they sometimes have human memberships, are not always required by law to maintain human memberships after their charter is granted.

3. Corporate charters – and all other such laws – should be considered types of human behavior – and not necessarily human groups or (especially) human beings. This is because human membership is simply not a sufficient, or even a necessary, component of maintaining a corporate charter.

In addition to towns with zero populations, any of our readers can create a corporation themselves – with no members. For a small $200 fee, articles of incorporation can be filed by a single person, who is not required to be a member of that corporation. (This is often done to hide assets, and leave no living person available to sue.) [1] I certainly hope that any readers who might be considering casting a vote on this debate is made aware of this.

My challenge to the premise of this debate, therefore stands: Corporations cannot always be considered to be humans, but rather, a type of human behavior.


Debate Round No. 2


KodyHarris forfeited this round.


I feel somewhat fortunate that my partner was absent this round; I have overextended myself as well, and would have been quite rushed. That said, I hope that he is well, and will return to the table soon.

In the meantime, I extend all of my arguments.
Debate Round No. 3


Apologies for my forfeiture. Severe extenuating circumstances outside the debate realm have rendered me unable to participate. I commend my opponent's response, but I do wish to continue this debate in the future due to the relevance of the topic at hand. However, I am unable to respond due to extreme personal circumstances, and I grant my opponent the victory in this particular debate, but I seek to continue it in the near future.


It is unwelcome to "win" a debate under such circumstances, and I look forward to a more complete contest as soon as my partner is able to participate. Such eventualities can not always be avoided, as I am sure all the readers are well aware.

Considering this was a debate instigated by my partner, I will forgo any further arguments, and react as though he had initially scheduled this competition to only the rounds already presented - thus rendering the debate "ended."

Debate Round No. 4


KodyHarris forfeited this round.


As was stated, the contest has been concluded before now. I wish my partner a speedy resolution to whatever emergency called him away, and thank the readers for bearing with us. I apologize for the truncation, but I am still required to ask for any readers who are with us to please consider voting on our performances here.
Debate Round No. 5
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by DenyEverything 4 years ago
I am really enjoying reading this debate. Keep up the good work!
Posted by DeFool 4 years ago
I am glad to see a much greater "focus" on individual elements of the Citizens United decision, and it's ramifications. I will follow closely this series, if they continue.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Smithereens 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:01 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeit