Moving beyond the corporation recovering an ontology of participation to envision new forms of business

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Theological Studies


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: Kelly S. Johnson


This thesis offers a critique of the publicly traded, for-profit corporate form of business organization in light of the Catholic social tradition. It highlights the ways in which this organizational form is inconsistent with the view of the human person, work, and participation in the economy articulated in Pope John Paul II's encyclical Laborem Exercens and Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate. The thesis argues that the corporate form creates moral problems for both shareholders and employees, and it maintains that responses to Benedict XVI's encyclical that seek positive social change through business must address legal and organizational issues of business structure. This thesis shows how a participatory ontology and deeper understanding of freedom as kenosis (in contrast to the unchecked freedom of the individual that undergirds the modern corporation) can help point the way toward new forms of business organization that seek to ameliorate the moral problems inherent to the corporate form. By engaging the work of John Milbank, D. Stephen Long, and others who, following Aquinas, articulate a participatory ontology, the thesis argues that such an ontology is critical to understanding human work and participation in the economy, as it allows the opportunity to question the prevalent understanding of individual freedom and its resulting lack of a unified economic telos. The last chapter responds to Pope Benedict XVI's call to find new ways to understand business. Drawing on lessons learned about human work, the role of the person in economy, the critique of the corporation, and by engaging an ontology of participation, the thesis explores existing alternative business structures (including microfinance through Catholic Relief Services, the Economy of Communion business model, and the TOMS' Shoes company) and suggests ways to mobilize the resources of the church as a means by which Christians might respond to Benedict's call.


Business ethics Religious aspects Catholic Church, Business Religious aspects Catholic Church, Labor Religious aspects Catholic Church, Corporations Religious aspects Catholic Church, Christian sociology Catholic Church

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