Weak Spots in Business Ethics: A Psycho-Analytic Study of Competition and Memory in "Death of a Salesman" [Book Review]

Journal of Business Ethics 44 (4):391 - 404 (2003)
Abstract
The field of business ethics has shown little attention to the dynamics of memory in maintaining moral character. Yet memory is a complex process that involves the repression of some experiences in order to protect the moral integrity of the personality. Without the capacity to repress what one's moral conscience would not accept, the mind can be overtaken by neurotic ambivalence and moral confusion. In the context of business competition, where the pressures for potential gains and losses can be immense, long repressed desires can receive renewed strength resulting in a weakening of moral constraint. In this essay, I use the psycho-analytic theory of repression to investigate the complex, psychological vicissitudes of human memory. The theory of repression is a particularly powerful tool to investigate the moral implications of memory because memories which are repressed - i.e., forbidden consciousness - are done so at the behest of the individual's moral ideals. Experiences that offend these ideals or threaten the integrity of the ego can be repressed. Repression, then, is an infallible index of moral judgement. I will apply the theory of repression to the characters in and story line of Arthur Miller's play "Death of a Salesman" to elucidate the relationship between memory and ethics in business. "Death of a Salesman" is well suited for this purpose because the memories of the main characters are central to the play and are inextricably linked to the moral challenge competition in business poses.
Keywords business ethics  competition  culture  memory  repression
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