Born on March 19, 1942, Peter A. French is the Director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Philosophy of the University of South Florida, and a Philosophy professor at Trinity University (in San Antonio, Texas), Northern Arizona University, the University of Minnesota, and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, French also once served as Exxon Distinguished Research Professor, working on value theory at the University of Delaware.
French received his undergraduate degree from Gettysburg College, and a Masters Degree from the University of Southern California. And finally, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Miami.
on the web site of his current home, Arizona State University
, boasts that he "has a national reputation in ethical and legal theory, applied ethics and in collective and corporate responsibility," and that "he is the author of seventeen books," among them:
- Cowboy Metaphysics: Ethics and Death in Westerns
- Corporate Ethics
- Corporations in the Moral Community
- The Spectrum of Responsibility
- Collective and Corporate Responsibility
- Ethics in Government
- The Scope of Morality
- and, The Virtues of Vengeance [ ! ]
According to French's curriculum vitae, his next book, if he keeps the working title, will have the most intriguing title yet (as far as I'm concerned): Ethics and Intercollegiate Sports.
French has obviously made a substantial contribution to the field of ethics, and his work is taken very seriously in Philosophy circles. In addition to the books listed above, he has (of course, as academicians do), written dozens of articles in peer-reviewed Philosophy journals, generally focusing on collective responsibiltiy.
An apparent landmark piece he wrote, which I was encouraged by my Philosophy Professor at the University of Maryland to read, is a 1979 article titled "The Corporation as a Moral Person." In it, he argues (contrary to a claim I have argued and published here on E2), that collections of people can be regarded as persons for purposes of moral analysis. He is a very intelligent and articulate author, and his defense is appealing, though I do not agree with it, since French and I disagree on what definitions of "person" and "moral" are relevant. He argues quite cogently against points made by other famous ethicists, such as John Locke, and John Rawls; those philosophers have historically argued that corporations (and by extension, groups of people of any sort, including nations), cannot be judged by normal moral rules, since they are not "persons" for purposes of ethical analysis.
French is well-known for his stance on group responsibility, summarized neatly in "The Corporation as a Moral Person." French writes, "we have good reasons to acknolwedge the non-eliminatable agency of corporations . . . I think that grounds have been provided for holding corporations per se to account for what they do, for treating them as metaphysical persons qua moral persons" (p.148)