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What Is the Philosophy of Business?

English philosopher John Locke wrote about the function and meaning of business.
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  • Written By: C. Daw
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 December 2014
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The philosophy of business deals with the concepts and methodologies of gaining economic benefits. It is old term and has been used extensively for over the past few centuries. Over time, philosophy of business has changed with the times, the prevailing political atmosphere, culture, religious beliefs, etc. There are diverse views about the concepts of business in different regions around the globe, as local resources and culture can have a huge impact on how its people view business. There are number of different concepts and views in the business world, but its purpose and intentions are very much the same. Different from the term business philosophy, which describes how a particular business chooses to conduct itself, the philosophy of business is more related to an academic or outsider's discussion of the prevailing philosophies on what business is and how it functions.

The philosophy of business became a subject of debate as early as the 17th century, but by the 18th century, philosophers and respected thinkers of the time made business a hot topic. Adam Smith, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are a few of the philosophers and thinkers who wrote treatises on their particular beliefs about the function and meaning of business. Their theories on business explored the core values of consumers and business owners and what motivated them to produce and consume. Their writings proved to be the foundation upon which most modern business theory is based upon.

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Concepts such as rationality, that people are basically rational; atomism, that people prefer to be autonomous and will strive toward individual rewards; free will, that people are entitled to choose their path; natural rights, that people have the right to own and work to benefit themselves, are all philosophies of business that were introduced by early thinkers that influence modern philosophy today.

Later concepts such as moral sense and hedonism were conflicting philosophies that defined the motivation of a business and its owners. Some believed that people are motivated by a moral obligation to the greater good, and by improving the outcome of others, they improve their own conditions. Others believe that people are intrinsically hedonistic, and therefore strive to satiate their own needs. In modern times, businesses that serve the good of society have become increasingly popular, where businesses that seem to serve its own purposes with little regard to the public or environment are frowned upon.

In modern times, concepts such as business ethics, organizational and management theory are prevailing philosophies in the forefront of the discussion of business. With the world wide media and Internet, many businesses are forced to be ever more transparent, and as a result, are motivated to widen their customer base by showing how much they "care" about their employees, community and the environment. While the goal of business by and large remains the same — to turn a profit — how and why a business acts the way it does remains a healthy topic of debate among academic and armchair philosophers.

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