Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

Profit: The Concept and Its Moral Features

James W. Childa1

a1 Philosophy, Bowling Green State University

Profit is a concept that both causes and manifests deep conflict and division. It is not merely that people disagree over whether it is good or bad. The very meaning of the concept and its role in competing theories necessitates the deepest possible disagreement; people cannot agree on what profit is. Still, simply learning the starkly different sentiments expressed about profit gives us some feel for the depth of the conflict. Friends of capitalism have praised profit as central to the achievement of prosperity and to civilized modern life. Calvin Coolidge, that silent sentinel of American business, said, “Profit and civilization go hand in hand.” F. A. Hayek tells us that

in the evolution of the structure of human activities, profitability works as a signal that guides selection towards what makes man more fruitful; only what is more profitable will, as a rule, nourish more people, for it sacrifices less than it adds.