Cui Bono – Every Writer has an Ulterior Agenda

What does Cui Bono? Mean?

sculpture of David

The Latin phrase cui bono? can be loosely translated into English idiom as “who’s getting paid?”. The phrase has been central to critical thinking for thousands of years. The first recorded example of it is in one of the court cases of Cicero, a Roman lawyer who lived in the first century BCE, but even Cicero was quoting someone else saying it. Today the phrase remains one of the cornerstones of critical thinking, and it’s becoming increasingly important in our modern money-oriented world.

The idea behind cui bono? is that before we believe anything we are told, we need to know who profits from the idea. It does not matter if what we are being told is true or false, it only matters who profits. Sometimes the answer is obvious: If we are told that the new Pepsi drink has no sugar, this is to persuade us to buy Pepsi, for the profit of the Pepsi company shareholders. If we are told that the local pet shelter has no room left, this is to persuade us to adopt for the benefit of the local pet shelter (and of course the pets themselves). Both of these facts are true (Pepsi Zero Sugar does not contain sugar, and your local pet shelter probably is full) but someone benefits from us hearing those facts, and if we repeat those facts we are benefiting that person as well.

When should we ask Cui Bono?

fake news in spelled out in scrabble tiles over blank tiles

We are used to being suspicious of corporations and charities, but we should also be applying the concept of Cui bono? to other accounts as well. For example, news stories about migration were used in 2016 to encourage people to vote for Donald Trump in the USA and to vote for Brexit in the United Kingdom. If a new academic book is said to represent a “quantum leap in understanding”, this is to encourage us to buy a book (bringing profit to the publishing company and prestige to the author).

Of course, just because someone profits from telling us something does not mean that what they are saying is not important or interesting. Often when people tell us things, it is in their best interest for those things to be reliable, otherwise, we will lose trust in them. For example, if an academic lied about something in a book, and we found out, then no-one would buy their book any-more. It is against the author’s interests to lie, so an academic book is usually reliable. However, the concept of Cui bono? is that we should always ask “who’s getting paid?” and “how does the author benefit?” when we hear something new. We have to remember that someone profits whenever we hear or repeat anything.

If you found this blog post useful and want to learn more of the principles of Critical Thinking, you might enjoy taking the University Preparation Writing Package here at the Academy for Distance Learning. But then, we would say that, wouldn’t we!




June Newsletter 4 2022: Is it smaller than a loaf of bread?

Nanotechnology 100 Hours Certificate Course Learn about Nanotechnology and understand how it can be applied in many industries Nanoscience is the study of structures and molecules on the very small scales of nanometres. The technology that utilises it in practical applications, such as devices, is called nanotechnology. This course will help you understand how nanotechnology

Read More »

Freedom to Learn

Unsurprisingly, one of the most critical skills that we can understand in life is how to learn. Or, more accurately, how we learn because we are all very different and at various points in our journey to understanding how we work best. This series is going to be an exploration of ideas that may prove

Read More »

May Newsletter 3 2022: Enter the writer’s room!

Writing Non-Fiction 100 Hours Certificate Course Learn How Professional Non-Fiction Writers Become Professional Non-Fiction Writers! Have you ever dreamed of becoming a Professional Non-Fiction Writer? This course will help you learn how to write blogs, news articles, video scripts and much more. You’ll also learn how to develop writing skills that will enable you to

Read More »

June Newsletter 2 2022: Farm-Bred and Organic Tourism!

Farm Tourism (also known as Agritourism!) 100 Hours Certificate Course HOW TO ESTABLISH A FARM TOURISM BUSINESS Looking to add extra revenue streams to your farming business? This course will explain the various opportunities and different ways that a farm tourism business can add to your farm income. You’ll learn how to build a tourism

Read More »

June Newsletter 1 2022: The two certainties in life, taxes and learning!

Bookeeping Skills are Essential to any Business! Learn the accounting practices needed to understand the monetary wellbeing of your business. Improve your existing skills or simply use the course to improve your admin or accounting abilities. Bookkeeping Foundations (Bookkeeping I) is an ideal course for anyone wanting to have a better understanding of the principles

Read More »


Scroll to Top


To speak to one of our course advisors, please enter your name and phone number below and click the "Please Call Me" button. We will call you back as soon as possible!

By submitting this form, I provide my consent to ADL to contact me via email or telephone, regarding the course I selected. All information provided is protected in conformity with our Privacy Policy.


required fields are marked with *

By submitting this form, I provide my consent to ADL to contact me via email or telephone, regarding the course I selected. All information provided is protected in conformity with our Privacy Policy.