This thesis is concerned with the moral responsibility of for-profit companies under a decision-making framework to maximize profit. Economic rationality defined in pursuit of profit maximization leads to unmet moral responsibility, creating a dilemma regarding the decisions of the firm. This project aims to find a sufficient solution to this dilemma by analyzing three considerable approaches.

The organization of this thesis is as follows. Chapter One introduces the theoretical framework, which shapes the context for the discussion of ethics in the realm of economic rationality. A dilemma is posed in this chapter regarding the decisions made by corporations, specifically in the financial sector, that contradict the notion of moral responsibility with the objective to achieve maximized profit.

Chapter Two begins the inquiry on philosophical approaches that may solve the dilemma posed in the first chapter. Chapter Two analyzes a mainstream approach to accounting for social responsibility under profit maximization called the Triple Bottom Line. Consideration of the rhetoric surrounding the theory is used as a basis upon which to argue the sufficiency of the concept as a solution to the dilemma. The chapter concludes that, though it has made long overdue strides in both transparent corporate reporting and sustainability accounting, the Triple Bottom Line is ultimately an insufficient solution to the dilemma because of its failure to motivate and inform the morally responsible action.

Chapter Three critically examines Robert Nozick’s explanation of deontological side constraints, and considers the concept as a solution to the dilemma. The main idea of this concept is to restrict utilitarian initiatives by placing non-consequential ethical demands as side constraints to action, insufficiently constrained by law. The chapter concludes that the notion of deontological side constraints is a negativistic approach to morality, thus failing to provide a positive account of morality. In the context of corporate decision-making, it therefore does not solve the dilemma.

The notion of satisficing is explained in Chapter Four and supported as a viable solution to the dilemma in consideration. It claims that economic rationality should be defined in intrinsic satisficing rather than maximizing. The idea of aiming to achieve adequate return on investment or ‘satisfactory’ profit is tied to the idea that providing content for investment decisions can expand the emphasis on the underlying mission of the institution. Defining institutions in such a way, appeals to the intrinsic value in the work a corporation undertakes. Provided that content, a company’s aim to execute their defined mission, while fulfilling their moral obligations, would allow for adequate profit to be sufficient for the company and investors, achieving a satisfactory return. This chapter also remarks on the non-instrumental decision to satisfice as an expression of Aristotelian virtue.

The concluding chapter remarks on the nature of the dilemma and revisits the main approaches presented in previous chapters attempting to solve it.


Thomson, Garrett




Arts and Humanities | Business

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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