Recontextualising Aristotelian Perspectives on the Purpose of the Business Corporation

Abstract

Business ethicists draw extensively on Aristotle’s work in defining the purpose of the business corporation. Insights from ancient authors can be valuable in illuminating contemporary issues, but we should be wary of enlisting their authority for our views without paying careful attention to what they might have intended by what they said in their own social and economic context. Business ethicists have argued that the business corporation should be a community within which its members can live a good life; that its purpose should not be to maximise profits; and that it should integrate itself into a range of wider communities beyond its own boundaries and serve their interests. Aristotle would have agreed that the business corporation should not seek to make as much profit as possible, although he might have accepted that – in the light of modern developments in economic management - it should make enough profit to fund projects that would be beneficial to society. Aristotle’s view that the polis provided the setting in which people could best live a good life does not justify the claim that the business corporation can or should serve a similar purpose. Aristotle believed that people should strive for enough and not too much in several contexts, not only in acquiring wealth, but also in defining the size and scope of the community of which they should be members. Some expansive, contemporary views on the communities into which the business corporation should integrate itself are alien to Aristotle’s thinking.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The literal translation of the word chreia as “need” that is adopted here, in place of Rackham’s translation of the word as “demand”, follows Finley’s (1974) rejection of Rackham’s translation as an anachronistic introduction of a term from modern economic theory.

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Shaw, D. Recontextualising Aristotelian Perspectives on the Purpose of the Business Corporation. Philosophy of Management (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40926-020-00161-x

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Keywords

  • Aristotle
  • Business corporation
  • Community
  • Profit maximisation