Does a Business Have Any Social Obligation Beyong Profit Motive?

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Topic: Does a business have any social obligation beyond profit motive?

Sources Used:
Arthur Miller, All My Sons,
Ferdinand Tonnies, The Argument
The Ethics of Business, The Economist
Profit Motive, The Guardian

Consideration of social responsibility is an important concern for the successful operation of a business. A business can be structured with the sole intention of maximizing profit, or it can be structured in a way in which social obligation beyond profit is considered. The two opposing views are introduced by Ferdinand Tonnies in The Argument, and correspond to his concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesselschaft (Tonnies, Ferdinand "The Argument” from Community and Civil Society) The opposing nature of Gemeinschaft and Gesselschaft suggests that the two may not be reconciled in business, and that one may be detrimental to the other. Arthur Miller’s play depicts this tension between the views, supporting the belief that a business structure focused on the maximization of profit is not compatible with one focused on social responsibility. The purpose of this paper is to depict the tension between Gemeinschaft and Gesselschaft throughout Arthur Miller’s play, to show that the two opposing views on social responsibility in business are not compatible.

Gemeinschaft is a type of business that is seen as a “living organism” (Ferdinand Tonnies, The Argument from Community and Civil Society) There is an association among individuals, regulated by common beliefs, morals, and ideas. The family, according to Tonnies, is the prime example of Gemeinschaft, insofar as there exists an emphasis on strong personal relationships, and a feeling of community and belonging. Gesselschaft, on the other hand, is an individualistic approach to business. In the Gesselschaft model, the larger association never takes precedence over the individual’s self interest. An example of Gesselschaft would be the modern business, where each individual worker is not intimately tied to the product of their work, but is rather focused on their production in light of their own self-interest. Both Geimenschaft and Gesselschaft are concepts, in light of which an individual relates to society. Geimenschaft introduces an associative feeling, where decisions made are made in light of associations between individuals, and the individual and community. Gesselschaft, on the other hand, supports an individualistic position, oriented toward individual self-interest. It is apparent that the two views cannot be reconciled, as Geimenschaft, in virtue of being such, excludes the individualistic orientation of Gesselschaft.

The play of Arthur Miller is a very effective depiction of the tension between Geimenschaft and Gesselschaf. The protagonist, Joe Keller, is a man whose love for his family leads him to sacrifice everything, including his morals, in order to make his family prosper financially. He is a producer of airplane parts, and, in order to protect his business, decided to ship defective airplane parts to be used in the war, knowing that they were defective. This decision lead to the deaths of many soldiers, one of whom was his son. His partner is sent to prison, while Keller escapes the punishment and becomes a wealthy man. Although Keller’s son Chris conceals the truth in order to protect his father, his knowledge of the events and his subsequent reaction to the business does not permit him to participate in the business.

In the play, there is a feeling of community, and a reflection of Gemeinschaft, in the neighborhood as all families are connected and have a social bond that is preserved. “In Gemeinschaft, we are united from the moment of our birth with our own folk for better or for worse. “We go out into Gesselschaft as if into foreign land” (Ferdinand Tonnies, The Argument from Community and Civil Society). Tonnies makes a point that relates to Joe Keller’s situation. He could either remain in his Gemeinschaft by...
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