Of Dice and Men: Rethinking Business as a Game

In Patricia Werhane & Mollie Painter-Morland (eds.), Cutting-Edge Issues in Business Ethics. pp. 109-120 (2008)

Russell Ford
Elmhurst College
Albert Carr’s contention that business and individual behavior within business can be understood through an analogy with a game of poker suffers from two central deficiencies. The first is conceptual: in his account, Carr slips between a discussion of games and a discussion of poker as thought they were interchangeable. However, “bluffing,” which is the only concept that Carr is interested in, is actually a mode of play, particular to a subset of games. The second deficiency is one of scale: Carr’s account elides the difference between business understood as a practical domain and business understood from the standpoint of one of the participants or “players” within that domain. These two deficiencies are tacitly invoked by Norman Gillespie in his critique of Carr’s argument. However, Gillespie’s counter-claim – that business is a limited aspect of a more general ethical domain whose rules ought to be able to be shaped by its subjects – fails to pursue the conceptual shortcomings of Carr’s argument far enough. Beginning with Gillespie’s critique, this essay will use Gilles Deleuze’s image of the dice-throw (drawn from Heraclitus and Nietzsche) in order to argue that, 1) the concept of play is not synonymous with bluffing (the latter being only a limited aspect of the former); 2) the concept of play conceptualizes the always incomplete domain of ethics; 3) the incompletion of the ethical domain is not a function of relativism, but of the insufficiency of concepts to completely encompass empirical events; and 4) that business is a particular ethical domain circumscribed not by bluffing, but by a set of rules that overcodes moral evaluations with economic ones.
Keywords Business Ethics
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