The social purpose of corporations

by Nien-He Hsieh, Marco Meyer, David Rodin and Jens Van 'T Klooster

13 Nov 2018
Journal of the British Academy
25 (pp. 49-73)

Abstract: To think about the purpose of corporations is to think about what corporations are for. In the article, argue that the concept of a purpose has an important role in thinking about the moral evaluation of corporations. We make three contributions. First, we distinguish different uses of the concepts of social and corporate purpose. Social purpose concerns the contribution that the corporation makes to realising societal goals. Corporate purpose concerns the goals the corporation should actively pursue. Second, we investigate whether corporations ought to serve a social purpose and whether corporations ought to actively pursue their corporate purpose. Third, we explore critically what roles the concepts of social and corporate purpose can fulfil in moral reflection on and of corporations. In particular, we distinguish the constructive, the communicative, and the critical role of social and corporate purpose.

Keywords: social purpose, corporate purpose, the corporation, market failures, measurement of purpose.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 6,
supplementary issue 1 (Reforming Business for the 21st Century).

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