The why's of business revisited

Journal of Business Ethics 16 (12-13):1401-1409 (1997)
One can determine the nature of something by asking what it is for. For example one understands what a chair is when one understands it is for sitting on. This involves understanding its purpose. One type of corporation is the for-profit-corporation. This seems to indicate that this type of corporation, the business corporation, has as its purpose to make a profit. Is that as obvious as it first appears? The favorite way for philosophers to arrive at the "purpose" of anything is to ask the question "Why?" But there are at least two answers to the question "Why"? when addressed to a social practice such as business. One might be asking for a psychological account (explanation) of "Why" a person does business, and this is primarily answered by discovering the motives behind business activity; or one might be asking for a justificatory reason (justification) for the practice – what purpose legitimates business as a human activity. These two answers are often conflated and thus the purpose of business is often considered to be answered by giving the psychological account of the self-interested profit-making motive. This paper will attempt to highlight the importance of making the distinction between motive and purpose clearly, show what confusions arise when the distinction is ignored, and hint at some of the structural philosophical reasons why the distinction got blurred in the first place.
Keywords Adam Smith  business  ethics  motive  Milton Friedman  profit maximization  purpose
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DOI 10.1023/A:1005731008313
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