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Launched on 2 November 2003, Philosophy for Business is an e-journal published by the International Society for Philosophers, looking at philosophical and ethical aspects of business practice.

We are aiming for a wide circulation to companies and corporations around the world, as well as academic philosophers.

In order to gain the widest possible readership, articles should be written in simple, non-technical language. The target length is 2500 words.

Some themes that we will be looking at:

   Globalization and monopoly
   Is business ethics possible?
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   Ecology and sustainability
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Geoffrey Klempner


Marco Senatore

Peter S Borkowski

Dena Hurst

Sean Jasso

International Society for Philosophers
[back to archive]

P H I L O S O P H Y   F O R   B U S I N E S S           ISSN 2043-0736

Issue number 45
3rd May 2008


I. 'On Property and Theft' by Geoffrey Klempner

II. 'Comments on Albert Carr, 'Is Business Bluffing Ethical?'' by
  Wolfgang W. Osterhage

III. 'Summer School: Strategic Dialogue and Development of Discourse' by
  Jos Kessels



First of all, I would like to extend a warm welcome to the new students joining
the Business Pathways 'Ethical Dilemmas' program.

Those who have been following the Philosophy for Business since the call went
out last August for 'guinea pigs' in Issue 39, may have realized by now that
the program is still in the process of being written. The feedback I have
received so far has been invaluable. More information can be found at

In this issue, I have adapted unit 7 of 'Ethical Dilemmas' which deals with the
nature of theft from a philosophical perspective. Early reactions seem to
suggest that I might be stirring up a bit of controversy. If you have any
thoughts about the article -- publishable or otherwise -- I would be very happy
to hear them.

The second article, by Wolfgang Osterhage, looks at the notorious article by
Albert Carr which appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1968. I first came
across Carr in a Wikipedia article on the Philosophy of Business, which compared
my account of ethics in the business arena to Carr's defence of 'business
bluffing'. I don't agree with Carr's view, but his provocative paper makes
essential reading for any student of business ethics.

Finally, we have an announcement which appeared a few days ago on Nigel
Laurie's Management Philosophers e-list, a summer school in Bergen on
'Strategic Dialogue' which looks very interesting. If you would like to join
the Management Philosophers e-list, send an email to
MANAGEMENTPHILOSOPHERS and leave the subject line blank.

Geoffrey Klempner



 Theft and giving in the business arena

One of the ground rules without which the business arena would not function is
that you do not take what is not yours to take. If I want something then I must
be prepared to pay, or else trade something of equivalent value. If there were
no need to strike a bargain, if one could just take the thing anyway, then the
very possibility of trade is undermined and all meaningful business activity
would cease. It is a rule which we honour in the breach -- for example, when we
boast about paying much less than the market value of a particular item, or
selling it for much more than it is 'worth'.

However, the idea that it is wrong to take a thing unless you pay for it does
not go without saying. It begs the question: Why would anyone want to take
something that didn't belong to them against the owner's wishes? Why do we need
the commandment, 'Do not steal?'

In the festival of the potlatch, once widely practised by indigenous American
peoples along the North Pacific Coast, prominent families who hosted the sacred
ceremonies competed with one another to show who could give away more of their
goods and wealth. The practice was considered by nineteenth century Canadian
missionaries so contrary to Christian values that they successfully sought to
have it banned by legal statute. Yet the idea of competing to 'give the most'
is not unknown amongst business people. Consider for example the charity
luncheon, where rich guests take turns to announce proudly the value of the
cheque that they are donating to the worthy cause.

What a strange inversion of the business arena it would be, if the aim of trade
was to give as much as possible with the aim of receiving as little as possible
in return! Yet it is worth while asking why we are so keen to ensure that trade
is equitable. Where did the idea arise of economic thinking, where each party in
a negotiation seeks to gain their objective with the least investment of money,
time or effort? Is this an essential part of human rationality as some would
claim it to be? To what extent is economic thinking the sine qua non of the
business arena?

However much we may prize economic thinking as the model of 'rationality', it
is widely recognized that unforced generosity oils the machinery of the
business arena. Reformers who seek to have the practice of giving gifts
curtailed or even banned miss the obvious point that giving -- not only of
one's time or expertise or resources but personal gifts to those with whom you
have formed a close business or working relationship -- helps to create an
atmosphere of optimism and good will. Who doesn't love receiving a gift?

The difficulty, of course, in the case of material gifts is distinguishing a
genuine gift from a bribe which is a form of illicit trade, the very opposite
of gift giving. That is not something we will be looking at here. The point to
remember is that in the interest of rooting out bribery and corruption, we
should not get so carried away that we view all gift giving in the business
arena with a jaundiced eye.

But what about theft? Before we can define theft, we first need to grasp the
nature of property. The aim of a definition of property is not a defence of the
institution of private property, as Locke famously attempted, nor indeed is it
an attack, as in Marx's critique of private property. We need to be clear from
the start that any such analysis -- supposing this to be possible, which as we
will see is very much a matter of debate -- must be ideologically neutral. To
understand what it is to possess property, to own an object is in principle
neither to approve nor criticize.

 Varieties of ownership

People love their possessions. This is a remarkable fact about the natural
history of human beings that requires not a little explanation:

     Philosophers, so quick to analyse, look at an object as a
     mere bearer of physical properties, or as a tool with a
     function, or, possibly, one of those rare objects that
     attains the status of a 'work of art', a bearer of sheer
     disinterested aesthetic value. None of these ways of
     analysing an object explain why we love things. All parents
     know how children lust for toys. We grow up. We put away
     childish things. We do not lose that lust, we merely look
     for different things to attach ourselves to, to project our
     emotions onto. This is normal, not pathological behaviour.
     Object-love is one of the most profound facts about our
     human relation to the world. That is something Freud saw.

     Geoffrey Klempner 'Ethics and Advertising'[1]

Theft and property are not simply correlative notions. For example, suppose I
have my favourite place at the conference table. A newcomer unknowingly sits
down in my place. This is perceived, not as taking away something that is my
'property', something I own, but more like (although by no means equivalent to)
a disconcerting invasion of my personal space, albeit innocent and unintentional.

While the denotation of the term, 'property' shades in to that of personal
space, at the other end of the spectrum, the idea of what is my property shades
in to what is physically part of me, a limb for example. Yet we also identify
certain precious or indispensable objects as 'part of us', and when these are
taken we feel a special sense of grief or loss. This applies not just to
objects of sentimental value -- which have an essential reference to others and
in particular those we love -- but also the possessions which in some sense
shape our sense of who and what we are. The conscientious workman loves his

To lose one's reputation and good name can be a great loss. Yet the person who
takes them -- through libel or slander -- does not thereby acquire them. On the
other hand, the successful impersonator acquires -- as it were, through
illicitly borrowing -- a reputation and a name which nonetheless remain wholly
mine, not theirs.

There are many things I own whose value to me is purely functional, a matter of
convenience. Yet the seemingly neutral term 'convenience' speaks volumes. My old
PDA, with all extra data and software which I have uploaded over many months
would cost a great deal of effort to replace, even though the thief is unlikely
to get much money for it. I can buy another identical PDA cheaply on eBay, but
nothing will make up for the time that I spent in customizing it, or the
aggravation of having to search for the various disparate bits of information
which I had so carefully gathered together.

 Defining 'property'

I am walking through the woods with a party of hikers and come across a broken
bare tree branch which is perfect for a walking stick. After we have stopped a
while for a rest, one of the members of the party, too lazy to find a walking
stick of his own, cheekily picks up the walking stick intending to use it. When
I protest that it's 'mine', the lazy hiker replies that the stick was lying
there on the path, anyone could have picked it up. 'But I was the one who
picked it up not you!'

What mistake is the lazy hiker making? It seems clear from this example that at
least in some cases, finding an object that doesn't belong to anyone is
sufficient to make it yours. 'Finders keepers.' I didn't have to 'work' to find
the stick or make it usable (as in Locke's paradigm of private property as an
object with which I have 'mixed my labour'). It was just lying there, no-one's,
ready to be used. Now the stick is mine, to keep or to give away as I see fit.

To nudge our intuitions the other way, let's say I make a living selling
coloured stones and sea shells which I find in a secluded cove. One day, I find
another swimmer scuba diving in 'my' cove. Do I have any valid basis for
protest? 'Go find your own cove!'? But suppose there was just one, and I was
the one lucky to find it. That doesn't make it mine. It ceased to be mine the
moment my secret was discovered.

Usage and custom play a significant role in determining whether something is
someone's 'property'. Here is an example which is especially relevant to the
business world: A busker will get very aggravated if you 'steal my pitch'.
Lucrative pitches in the centres of big cities are shared by the street
musicians on a strict schedule while newcomers are often harassed and excluded.
There is no legal or ethical basis for this practice. In the UK, unlicensed
busking is illegal anyway. And yet we can clearly perceive the point of the
practice. Without a negotiated agreement there would be war on the streets.

In a not dissimilar way, companies will honour implicit or explicit agreements
not to trespass on one another's turf or 'steal' their customers. These
agreements, which have no legal force and which at the limit effectively become
price fixing hardly seem in the interests of the customer. The companies would
argue that they have a right to survive. In a price undercutting war the
consumer wins, but they lose. The clinching argument, however, is that if no
company finds it profitable to trade, then everyone loses.

If we accept the clinching argument, at least in certain circumscribed cases,
does it follow that a company in some sense 'owns' their customer base? If two
companies have made an agreement not to poach one another's customers then this
defines a form of 'ownership', based on a written or unwritten contract. On the
other hand, to the extent to which the location of potential customers is
knowledge which one has researched or paid for, it comes under the heading of
trade secrets. In unit 5 I argued that, 'keeping trade secrets -- concerning
methods of manufacture, or the availability of goods, or potential customers --
would be impossible in a totally transparent business arena.'

As the example of the secluded cove demonstrates, knowledge can make all the
difference to ownership. If I am the only one who knows about the location of a
company or individual who is willing to buy my product, then that customer is
'mine' and I am not required to divulge my knowledge. But once the knowledge is
out in the open -- by whatever means the information got there -- then I have to
work as hard as my competitors are prepared to work in order to keep that
customer's business to myself.

 Why it is wrong to steal

Is stealing just something that on balance is bad to do, all things considered,
or is the traditional view -- expressed in the eighth commandment -- correct: it
is always and without exception wrong to steal? If the notions of 'property' and
'possession' are complex, then we should expect the considerations on theft to
be no less complex. That is not to say that there is not, at bottom, any
principle at stake here. Only, if there is a principle, it is one that is far
more difficult to state clearly, without hedging or qualification.

Ethics and the law have different things to say about theft. The law
encapsulates our ethical view of theft on the basis of what is reasonably
enforceable in a free society. In the case of physical items, 'possession is
nine points the law', although there are recognized grounds on which this can
be contested; e.g. if you can prove that you had the item first and it was
taken from you.

In the case of intellectual property, there is a widely recognized prohibition
in the academic world against plagiarism, where this is well defined -- by
those who have the expertise to recognize it -- yet by no means legally
enforceable. I can't be prosecuted for writing an article presenting your idea
or concept as if I were the one who had thought it up, yet there are
sufficiently strong sanctions within the academic world against this practice
which obviate the need to go to law.

Other examples of intellectual property which have the full sanction of law --
for example, using melodic elements from another musical composer's song -- can
often raise difficult questions of what is legitimate influence or inspiration
as opposed to illicit copying, as the famous law suit over George Harrison's
1970 release, 'My Sweet Lord' demonstrates. Two of the main melodic themes of
the song were strongly reminiscent of the 1962 Chiffons hit, 'He's So Fine',
even though Harrison's song also contained original, and very beautiful,
melodic elements of its own. Harrison was eventually found to have infringed
copyright through 'subconscious plagiarism'. The subsequent legal dispute over
damages dragged on for over twenty years.

In the software industry, reverse engineering software in order to illicitly
use the source code for one's own software product is illegal, yet reverse
engineering in order merely to study the source code can be perfectly within
the law. (The principle is the same as taking a manufactured item apart to see
how it is made.) But what if in the process of 'studying' the code you discover
a solution to a problem which you have been working on for a long time? This is
one of the ways in which programmers develop their knowledge and skills. There
is not always a sharp dividing line between illicitly using someone else's
fragment of code and merely 'learning' from it.

The upshot is that we can only be clear about whether an action is theft in
cases where a sufficiently compelling case has been made for prior ownership.
However, it seems that there is a significantly large area of differing shades
of grey where there simply is no answer to the question whether a person 'owns'
an item as their 'property' or not, and consequently whether taking it was
indeed a case of theft.

 Theft, punishment and self-protection

The crime of theft calls up deep emotions. It may seem incredible to us now
that at the time of Dickens a child could be hanged for stealing a loaf of
bread. Today, we express our condemnation of the use of the death penalty in
China for a wide range of crimes -- including common theft -- which in other
countries would receive a much lesser punishment. In Dickens' day, the baker
felt it was right and proper that this attack on his livelihood should be paid
for with the young culprit's life. It is a debatable question to what extent
what seems to us the disproportionate use of capital punishment is merely
ruthless expediency, or is viewed by the state and judiciary as justly deserved.

Is it wrong to steal a paperclip? (cf. the case of 'Margaret the unrepentant
thief'[2]). The simple example of a paperclip is a good way to open up the
question of theft. If I don't mind your taking paperclips from my desk then it
isn't theft. But if I do mind, then what you did was wrong.

But under what circumstances do I have a right to mind -- isn't that the
question? In order to get the paperclip, you had to go to my desk. That is
potentially an egregious invasion of my personal space. There is no telling
what personal items you might have come across rifling through my drawers. On
the other hand, if the paperclip was on the desk, in a large transparent
plastic pot labelled 'paperclips' it is difficult to see how I could reasonably
object. If I didn't want anyone to take any of my paperclips I should have put
them away in the drawer!

Today, millions download music and films illegally according to the letter of
the law, convinced that they are 'doing nothing wrong'. Are they deceiving
themselves? Have they just failed to think their actions through? Or is there
any plausible case for saying that the claims by the 'injured' parties have
been overstated and that the law should be more lenient?

All theft is not ethically the same. Our intuitions tell us that taking
something you need or covet for your own personal use is not the same as
stealing in order to profit from the sale of the stolen item. It is true that
the tenth commandment says, 'Thou shalt not covet' so it would seem that in the
former case, two offences are committed -- theft and coveting -- rather than
only one. Yet we readily understand that it is a natural human emotion to be
envious of another person's possessions, whereas the professional thief who
steals in order to sell does so cold-bloodedly, viewing the victim as nothing
more than a resource to use and plunder, and that is the source of the victim's

The emotive aspect of theft goes some way to accounting for the unnecessary
lengths that both individuals and companies go to in order to protect their
property. It seems clear in many cases that the deterrent effect of
countermeasures goes well beyond what would be required from a purely pragmatic
point of view. It is in the gap between reasonable and prudent protection and
the vengeful desire to pay the thief back for arrogantly daring to take what is
not theirs that there is genuine room for ethical debate over what is a
reasonable punishment or indeed what are acceptable measures for

It was not until 1861 that the British government passed the Offences Against
the Person Act which prohibited what up until that time had been the common
practice of landowners protecting their property from poachers by setting
hidden spring-loaded ankle traps or 'man traps' which caused serious injury to
any poacher unlucky enough to be caught by them, not to mention those who died
of exposure before they could be released. Another item which the Act
chillingly mentions is the 'spring-loaded gun' designed to go off automatically
when a hidden lever or wire is tripped.

Today, we flatter ourselves that we no longer engage in such primitive
practices, yet companies employ armies of wheel clampers, as well as guard dogs
bred for their ferocity often with the full blessing of the law, indifferent to
the inconvenience or harm caused to persons who are innocent of any crime.

Software and drugs corporations are two examples of companies who are widely
perceived -- correctly or incorrectly -- to hike their prices far beyond what
is a reasonable return on their investment in development. In the case of
software, this is the most frequently given excuse for piracy and illegal
downloading. Yet the measures taken against piracy often cause considerable
inconvenience to innocent consumers -- for example, lengthy and sometimes
unreliable online registration processes, or the need to repurchase the
software when your computer breaks down or needs replacing which many would
regard as contrary to common sense.

 Spreading the wealth

Yet the pain could be so easily avoided, as Sun Microsystems has shown: they
make their proprietary operating system 'Solaris' freely available, but charge
business users for support packages. There are a number of other creative
solutions arrived at by the more progressive software companies; the most
simple being to allow those who are unwilling to pay for the latest upgrade to
freely download obsolete versions. Of course, as always, there are marketing
considerations to take into account. But in most cases, companies know that
they would still make a healthy profit from purchasers of the latest upgrade.

'It's ours, therefore you must pay,' is an outmoded, reactionary concept in a
world where so much of the available wealth, in the form of information and
expertise is shared not owned. We all benefit from spreading the wealth, not
only the consumers but also the producers. It is not charity, but foresight and
prudence to cast your bread upon the waters.

One of the most striking examples of this phenomenon are the rock bands who
make their recordings available free for download. Traditional popular music
marketing would view this as a wasted opportunity; but in reality this turns
out to be a far more effective way of getting their work known and building a
following than the traditional methods of paying for advertisements in the
music press or trying to persuade DJ's to play the group's latest offering.

By contrast, potentially one of the greatest boons to mankind -- the genetic
engineering of crops to create strains which produce higher yields or which
survive in conditions where existing crops fail -- has become a new instrument
of commercial imperialism, with Western companies denying customers in the
third world who have purchased their designer seeds the right to sow the very
seeds that their crop has produced. Repugnant as it seems to all notions of
fairness, the practice is simply a logical consequence of the idea of
intellectual property, no less than in the case of resentful purchasers of
software who are legally barred from using their CDs to re-install the software
on a replacement machine.

Like the drugs companies who defend their high prices on the grounds that they
need to recoup their heavy investment, the genetic engineering companies argue
that if they are denied the opportunity to make sufficient profit from the sale
of their seeds then there would be no incentive to do the research in the first
place. If the farmers become self-sufficient with the second crop then the
seeds can only be sold once. This is a short-sighted view, which is sadly out
of touch with contemporary notions of justice and fair play.

In poorer countries, where the cost of original software is light years ahead
of what users can afford, it is common knowledge hat 'illegal' copying and
downloading is practised as a matter of course, as indeed is the production of
generic medications with the same chemical composition as the much more
expensive original product. It is a matter of sheer survival. The continued
insistence by producers that they are still searching for ways to enforce their
'legal right' is hypocrisy on a truly massive scale.

Companies need to bring in revenue. That is their raison d'etre. But there are
two points that are easily overlooked. The first is that there are many more
ways of bringing in revenue than the traditional, 'We make the product, you pay
for it' model. When the 'product' in question is so easily reproducible, it
makes far more sense to develop the service side, where the investment in time
and human resources corresponds more equitably to the revenue brought in. The
spectacular growth of the internet has shown how many unforeseen ways there can
be to generate revenue from web sites which apparently give so much away for

The second point may require a certain amount of biting the bullet, because it
seems to go against the grain of economic rationality, yet it is indeed a fact
as opposed to mere ideology -- what most companies actually practice contrary
to the belligerent capitalist propaganda: that enough profit is enough.


1. Geoffrey Klempner 'Ethics and Advertising'
    Philosophy for Business issue 9

2. Geoffrey Klempner 'Knowledge and Action in the Business Arena'
    Philosophy for Business Issue 42

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2008




 1. Introduction

In 1968 Albert Carr published a paper entitled 'Is Business Bluffing Ethical?'
in the Harvard Business Review[1]. So this contribution is some 30 years old.
However, it is as relevant today as it probably was at that time. In fact,
developments in business and public awareness today lend a distinct actuality
to it from our present day perspective. It is as controversial today as it was

I shall give a brief outline of the salient points of Carr's article. This will
be followed by a discussion of his favourite thesis: game playing as a
description of running business affairs. It seems that it will all boil down to
conventions agreed upon between business and other partners. The question that
inevitably arises is: why is the whole subject dealing with business at all and
whether business is just a special case of human activity anyway.

 2. Carr's Paper

Basically what Carr wants to get across is the notion that business is like a
game of poker -- that business is just like any other game. He sums this up
quite neatly in the following words:

     If a man plans to take a seat in the business game, he owes
     it to himself to master the principles by which the game is
     played, including its special ethical outlook. He can then
     hardly fail to recognize that an occasional bluff may well
     be justified in terms of the game's ethics and warranted in
     terms of economic necessity. Once he clears his mind on this
     point, he is in a good position to match his strategy
     against that of the other players. He can then determine
     objectively whether a bluff in a given situation has a good
     chance of succeeding and can decide when and how to bluff,
     without a feeling of ethical transgression.
     To be a winner, a man must play to win. This does not mean
     that he must be ruthless, cruel, harsh, or treacherous. On
     the contrary, the better his reputation for integrity,
     honesty, and decency, the better his chances of victory
     will be in the long run. But from time to time every
     businessman, like every poker player, is offered a choice
     between certain loss and bluffing within the legal rules of
     the game. If he is not resigned to losing, if he wants to
     rise in his company and industry, then in such a crisis he
     will bluff-and bluff hard.

Prior to this summary Carr cites the pressure to deceive, under which a
business man constantly operates. So he is bound to compromise on truth. This
again leads to accepted rules of the business game, where lies of a certain
quality are common. Thus business functions outside the prevailing traditions
of morality, and ethics becomes a decorative coating over the hard realities of
the game. Carr sees a principle difference between the business game and private
ethical standards.

 3. Game Playing

The first question that comes to mind is: how do game playing and reality
connect? Is game playing part of reality or does it represent a meta-world, in
which other rules apply than normally? -- The straight forward answer is: game
playing is part of this world just like driving a car is part of this world.
Let this be the case. Then game playing still seems to occupy a specific
section of reality. So, what about rules in this partition? -- Obviously normal
moral standards should apply. There is no way of killing somebody as part of a
game and then returning back to the rest of the world, pretending that that was
just a joke, and therefore no one is responsible.

On the other hand, game playing is still a world apart. The participants of a
game know in advance that they are engaging in actions, where special rules
apply. They also know that the aim of a particular game and the rules to be
followed are only relevant for the duration of that particular game. Once the
game is over, everybody returns to business as usual, where everyday life rules
are valid. Since business is regarded as part of everyday life the rules of some
other game are not applicable.

Again, everyday life could be dissected into a set of different games, such
that every act or consideration belongs to a given, well identified game. Does
this invalidate to arguments given so far? -- The answer comes from the
circular problem how to classify a real game within the set of all games.

So business and game playing are distinct parts of the world. However, they
could have some analogies. One is the conquest for power: the will to win.

 4. Conventions

We have seen that game playing like everyday life is controlled by sets of
rules. Everyone engaging in games voluntarily should and usually does
understand the rules of the game. An alternative word for rules is
'conventions'. Conventions are agreed upon by all parties. Conventions both
refer to the rules and the objectives of the game and the wordings describing
what is going on. If some one is a stranger to those, he is more likely to lose
than insiders.

There may be participants in a game (and in a game of some everyday life
piece), who are both not aware of their participation and of the rules they are
involuntarily entwined in. They are only objects of other peoples designs. In
the business world of Carr it surely happens. There is no point in pursuing
this example any further, since its immorality is obvious.

On the other hand, the conventions dominating particular games may be such that
they would not stand a moral test outside the boundaries of the game itself. The
question that arises is, whether agreed upon questionable conventions (including
cheating e.g.) by all parties can be judged as being acceptable standards within
the game being played or not.

One popular example is advertising. It can be assumed that both the advertisers
of a product and the consumers agree that marketing adverts do not represent the
same level as legal or scientific documentation. It is probably understood by
all concerned that advertising cannot be taken literally. A problem may arise,
if some person is either naive enough or conscientiously wants to opt out of
this game, and takes to wording of an advert as it is. He than no longer agrees
to the implicit conventions necessary to follow the game through. Either he is
excluded from now on, or the game has to stop for ethical reasons. It probably
all depends on the strength of the mutual positions.

 5. Business

Carr's argument started out by comparing business behaviour with playing poker.
In his line of reasoning both follow similar rules and demand similar
understanding of the conventions employed. This tends to put business as such
in a rather dubious light -- certainly for someone who does not have high
regards for poker.

If one, however, classifies both business and poker as only two out of a near
infinite number of games, the picture becomes more general. It all boils down
to a simple comparison between two different games with accidental analogies in
some aspects.

Or else business has nothing to do with poker. Business is just one special
expression of everyday life. Call it a game or not. There is no meta-world
behind it. So by conscientiously refusing to adopt the game playing rules of
poker and its ethical/ unethical implications, business (or what it is: profit
making) does not lead to unethical behaviour, or does so only when it is linked
to dubious game playing. If unethical behaviour results from business, the
reason must be found within the nature of business itself. Or must it?

 6. Everyday Games

What intrigued me most in Carr's paper was the assumption that church is the
place where no games are played and no bluffing occurs. Everyone, who has
served on church committees, knows very well that the same old games are played
there as everywhere. The mapping of church onto religion just does not happen,
and the sermon of the mount has been stripped of its radicality by all sorts of
contextual watering down. Deception is just as much present in clerical
hierarchies as in everyday life elsewhere.

The other assumption on which I disagree with Carr, is that individuals have
higher ethical standards than organisations. I take it that the ethical
standards of organisations are the sum of the prevailing ethical standards of
its members, and that is the outcome. There are no machines running the world
(not yet) but humans much the same as you and me. They are in a different place
right now, but that is (probably) a matter of chance.


1. Is Business Bluffing Ethical? by Albert Carr
    Harvard Business Review 46, January-February, 1968, pp. 143-53.

(c) Wolfgang Osterhage




Summer School 2008
Bergen, The Netherlands
2-4 July

 What we will do

This year we will focus our work in the Summer School on an important type of
discussion in organisations: the strategic dialogue. In many organisations
executives equate 'strategy' with rigid, template-driven, top-down planning
procedures. Often they consider such processes as ossified and bureaucratic,
rather than insightful and inspirational. We think that in order to be able to
develop a vital strategy with real support, managers and professionals should
be capable of conducting strategic dialogues in a proper way. This presupposes
the development of discourse in an organisation, i.e. the art of systematic
joint reflection on hot issues in organisational policy and professional
practice. Such an art requires an attitude and a set of skills that are hard to
accomplish, especially in the often hectic context of organisations. We
distinguish three conditions for realizing proper dialogues.


A first one is creating 'free space': room to step away, temporarily, from the
usual strategic stance. Some distance from fixed goals and daily problems is
needed to arrive at shared critical thinking, at exchange of wider reaching
visions or re-gauging basic aims. Free space is a first condition for exploring
deep-seated perspectives on the issues confronting you.

A second prerequisite is the proper command of a set of crucial skills. Of old,
these skills were bundled in the three linguistic disciplines of the 'liberal
arts', the Trivium. This consists of dialectics, the art of conducting
dialogue; rhetoric, the art of persuading; and grammar, the art of finding
'words that work'. All three of them play an important role in strategic

A third prerequisite is the joint intent to hunt for ideas, i.e. for a set of
convictions that present a legitimate cause and may function as the central
objective of organisational behaviour over a longer period of time. This
implies the willingness to inquire into different scenarios, different views on
'flourishing', and to render account of personal perspectives on what the common
good entails.

We believe it to be vitally important that this form of discourse be achieved
in organisations. Everywhere differences of opinion and insight abound, powers
are unequal, interests collide, objectives differ and goals diverge, as do
temperaments and characters. In order to realize any form of organizational
learning or sustainable leadership, these well-approved types of high-calibre
communication are crucial. Too often the inability to 'bracket' strategic
preoccupations gets in the way. Too often it seems impossible to create free
space for the sake of conscious and capable reflection -- for philosophising,
if you will.


In the Summer School we will alternate short introductions in the art of
strategic dialogue and its theoretical and philosophical background, with
practical inquiries employing different types of dialectic in a workplace
context. Especially we will make use of the large number of reflective tools
that we published in our latest book, the Free Space Fieldbook (shortly to be
translated in English). Besides, we will of course have time to enjoy the
beautiful environment (sea, beach, dunes, hotel accommodations).

 Expected outcomes

Participants get a clear idea of a classical philosophical approach to
strategic issues, why the liberal arts are important for organizational
learning and sustainable leadership, and how they can actually be applied in
concrete situations. They will practice in setting up dialogues themselves,
reflect on problems connected to them and get to see ways of overcoming these.

 Intended audience

We hope to bring together again an international group of HRD professionals,
managers, knowledge workers, HR practitioners and academics, both with
practical experience in organisations and an apparent interest in practical
philosophy. In previous years we got participants from Germany, Denmark,
Belgium, Italy, Iceland, Holland, Great Britain.

     'I did enjoy the days in Venice very much, and thank you
     for creating the 'open space'! I would like to be part of a
     possible next Summer School.' -- Nico Swaan, Holland
     'Birgit and I both find the idea of Free Space and the
     included idea of not jumping to conclusions and giving
     advice very healthy to good mentoring praxis.' -- Christian
     Wittrock, Denmark

For more information and enrolment have a look at under 'Summer School'.

(c) Jos Kessels 2008