If I understand you correctly, you are arguing three basic propositions
You have the first two nailed down... the third, however, is a bit off. I argue that the purpose of a corporation (or person) is to maximize profit. Not over the short-term, perhaps, but over the long run. For example, it takes money to make money, so you may have a short loss investing capital back into a business, but the end goal for a business (or person) is to be profitable. If you, as a person, continually lose more money than you acquire, you will be a very cold, hungry, and poor person.
I don't claim that any ethical responsibilities are being fulfilled by the act of attempting to maximize profit. Making a profit is like breathing, something that is innate and must be done for the survival of a living entity. The act of breathing, like the act of profiting, does not have anything to do with ethics. The steps one takes towards profiting, may or may not be ethical. For example, if I shoot you and take your wallet, I will increase my net worth, but I will have done so unehtically.
I remind you that something that is inethical may be entirely legal, hence we are not arguing over whether a company should be prevented by law from indulging in certain questionable practices, only that a company can be held to be inethical if they do
That depends on what you define to be ethical (and I think it is obvious that we have different criteria for that definition). I content that humans have three basic rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness/property. As long as your actions do not violate those three basic rights of others, than your actions will be ethical. If a company murders someone, or forces someone to do something against their will, then the company is acting unethically, and should be punished. If a profitable company raises prices because they realize that their customers can afford (i.e., they don't need the money, and are already making money at the current price), that is ethical. If a company says to a worker in a third-world nation, "I will pay you $2 a day to do this work," that is ethical. If the person refuses and the company says, "Do it or we'll shoot you," that is unehtical.
What if I invited you around promising a fine enjoyable meal, only to give you a plate of barely edible junk food? Is it not inethical to build your hopes up, only to dash them
That is not unethical, unless your prepared your food so that it would injure or kill me. Just don't expect me to come over to dinner at your house in the future.
Is it really ethical to encourage people to damage their bodies, and pay you for the privilege to do it?
As long as you do not force them. It would be quite unethical to restrict the freedom of peoples who wish to injure themselves. If I want to weigh 400 pounds and have heart problems, what right do you have to tell me that I cannot do that? Also, you make mention of an intellectually inferior class, the "people who watch "When Buildings Collapse" and its ilk." I strongly encourage you to read another one of my posts: http://www.kuro5hin.org/?op=comments;sid=2000/10/14/1014/4718;pid=131;cid=139#139.
If you define the sole function of a company as being the pursuit of profit, you overlook the amount of social good a company is able to achieve
A company, like a person, is under no obligation to achieve any good for society. If a company wishes to help the public, fine, but they should be, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES, forced to help the public, or forced to give back to society.
I view forcing anyone - a company or a person - to do something is the worst ethical violation one can make. You have no right to force me to do something, as I have no right to force you. If you want to give to charity, fine, do so, but you should be protected from being forced to do so.
I certainly have not seen a political or economic system that is absolutely perfect, but I would not consider capitalism to be the best I have seen
Name one that is better than capitalism. Unless you are a staunch conservative who wishes he could return to the days when men feared nature and lived in caves, capitalism is the way to go... if you look at how much has been accomplished in capitalist societies per unit time as compared to non-capitalist societies, you will see this point quite clearly. For example, imagine how many wonderful inventions and benefits to mankind could arise from China if it the government separated itself completely from the economy. Look at socialist countries in Europe, whose technical entrepenuers come to America because they are not riddled down by red tape and a government that is over-involved in the economy. Capitalism may have its flaws, but it is, hands down, the best system out there... If you allow men to trade freely among themselves, without your nagging regulations, without your incessant red tape, and without your (IMHO) faulty ethics dictating how others should trade, you would have a true utopia.
Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
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