Profit Motive

In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell (2013)
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Abstract

The profit motive refers to what is generally taken to be the underlying motivation of business and commercial activity: to collect revenues in excess of costs or, more simply, to make money. While both “profit” and “profit motive” may be given more technical definitions in economics, the latter's meaning is typically broader in philosophical discussions and so, for example, even managers of nonprofit organizations may be accused of sometimes acting from a profit motive. The profit motive is typically the object of ambivalent moral attitudes in present-day society: on the one hand, the plethora of commodities and services made possible by the modern market economy, fuelled to a large extent by the profit motive, are easily recognizable. On the other hand, it is generally regarded as a serious moral criticism to say of a certain commercial agent that he or she is motivated by profit alone, and pecuniary motives are often associated with selfishness and greed (see Egoism). (Compare comments like: “While it perhaps was a good thing that company X supported this social venture, they are not to be trusted – they only did it for the money!”)

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Joakim Sandberg
University of Gothenburg

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