A theory of organizational purpose

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13 Citations (Scopus)


This article presents a theory of organizational purpose that is normatively neutral and, hence, can be deployed to study firms without prejudging their role in society. The argument employs two philosophical concepts: intentionality and speech acts. The first is used to conceptualize the corporate mind, which is a set of long-lived beliefs about the world as it is and intentions about the world as it will be that drives organizational activity. Corporate minds allow for complex and valuable forms of social cooperation and, hence, the article argues that the purpose of any organization is to sustain a corporate mind. Five core attributes enable organizations to fulfill this purpose: authorization, property rights, the ability to contract, the capacity to deliberate, and conversability. Conversability allows organizations to perform speech acts; that is, to make statements about the corporate mind that are referred to in this article as meta-contractual avowals. The article provides a value-neutral account of corporate governance as the set of devices that ensures the consistency of an organization's corporate mind, meta-contractual avowals, and authorized actions. This theory sheds light upon the structure of purpose discourse and the relationship between different theories of the firm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-219
Number of pages17
JournalAcademy of Management Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


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