Cui Bono

Derived from Roman legal traditions, “Cui Bono” translates as “To whom is it a benefit?”. Historically used to discern motives by pinpointing beneficiaries, it’s now a widely-used tool for navigating complex societal and economic dynamics.


Cui Bono: A Latin heuristic that translates to “To whom is it a benefit?” or “Who benefits?” Initially used in Roman legal contexts to suggest potential beneficiaries as culprits, it now guides inquiry into motives across various societal, economic, and political scenarios.

Historical Context

Rooted in the practices of Roman consul Lucius Cassius in the 2nd century BCE, who applied this line of inquiry to discern motives and identify beneficiaries in legal cases. This historical background showcases the concept’s enduring significance in understanding complex human behaviors and power dynamics.

Key Concepts

  • Motive Analysis: At its core, “cui bono” aims to identify underlying motives, using benefits as indicators of potential actors or reasons.
  • Power Dynamics: Entities that stand to gain the most are often positioned within significant influence structures.

Broad Applicability

  • Journalism: Reporters may use it to uncover motives behind political moves or scandals.
  • Detective Work: Helps in pinpointing potential suspects based on benefits from a crime.
  • Economic Analysis: Assists in understanding the motives behind economic policies or market shifts.


  • Political Decisions: A country’s environmental policy alteration could be analyzed to discern benefiting industries.
  • Business Scenarios: A pharmaceutical company’s shift in research might indicate targeting emerging profitable health trends.
  • Criminal Investigations: For an influential figure facing blackmail, “cui bono” could help deduce potential adversaries.

Implications on Accountability

Those who benefit might have influenced outcomes or hold some level of responsibility, such as a corporation that benefits from a policy change possibly having lobbied for it.


While insightful, “cui bono” is an indicator, not a confirmation. It provides directions of inquiry rather than definitive answers.

In Summary

“Cui bono” is a principle that has transcended its origins from Roman legal traditions to become a universal tool for navigating motives and analyzing power dynamics. Its long-standing application underscores its value in various contemporary fields.