Finite and Infinite Games

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Finite and Infinite Games
First edition
AuthorJames P. Carse
PublisherFree Press
Publication date
1986 (1986)

Finite and Infinite Games is a book by religious scholar James P. Carse.[1]


Finite vs. infinite games[edit]

Carse summarizes his argument, "There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play. Finite games are those instrumental activities - from sports to politics to wars - in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers. The infinite game - there is only one - includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game. A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength. Finite games are theatrical, necessitating an audience; infinite ones are dramatic, involving participants..."[2][3]

Theatrical vs. Dramatic[edit]

Carse continues these conceptualizations across all major spheres of human affairs. He extends his themes broadly over several intellectual arenas that are largely otherwise disparate disciplines. He describes human pursuits as either dramatic (enacted in the present) or theatrical (performed according to a script of some kind). This distinction hinges on an agent's decision to engage in one state of affairs or another. If motherhood is a requirement and a duty, there are rules to be obeyed and goals to be achieved. This is motherhood as theatrical role. If motherhood is a choice and a process, it becomes a living drama. Carse spans objective and subjective realms and bridges many gaps among different scholarly traditions.


Finite and Infinite Games received mixed reviews. Howard A. Paul suggested that the book would be valuable in the education of therapists,[4] whereas Francis Kane of the New York Times was critical of the book's premise and logic.[5] Meanwhile technologist Kevin Kelly praised it for "alter[ing] my thinking about life, the universe, and everything."[6] Reviews in Commonweal and Publishers Weekly were more balanced.[7][8] Theology professor John F. Haught, writing in The Washington Times magazine noted the connection between Carse's book and the works of Søren Kierkegaard, Henri Bergson, René Descartes.[9] Finite and Infinite Games received a mixed review in Kirkus Reviews which stated 'For every (not too original) insight worth remembering ... there's a pair of others too familiar ... or awkward ... to hold our attention'.[10] Philosopher David Chalmers has called it a 'neglected classic in the philosophy of living.'[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carse, James P. (1987). Finite and Infinite Games. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-34184-6.
  2. ^ Kane, Francis (1987-04-12). "Machines Are Out, Gardens Are In". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-07-19.
  3. ^ Hyers, M Conrad (17 Dec 1986). "Books: Finite and infinite games". The Christian Century. Chicago: Christian Century Foundation. 103 (39): 1152. ISSN 0009-5281. For Carse, one may apply this distinction throughout the whole range of human interest and behavior. Most people tend to approach all areas of their lives as finite games. Carse, however, invites us to become players of infinite games.
  4. ^ Paul, Howard A. (11 January 2005). "Briefly Noted". Child & Family Behavior Therapy. 26 (4): 87–89. doi:10.1300/J019v26n04_06. S2CID 218574394. If there are courses within behaviorally oriented graduate psychology training institutions dealing with the philosophy of therapy or wishing to address the existential base of much of what goes on inside psychotherapy more fully, this book would be a valuable addition to the reading list.
  5. ^ Kane, Francis (12 April 1987). "Machines Are Out, Gardens Are In". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2019. Halfway through this book I became like a viewer of a B movie, rooting for the villain -that hapless finite player.
  6. ^ Kelly, Kevin (2010). What Technology Wants. Viking Press. p. 365. ISBN 978-0-670-02215-1.
  7. ^ Moran, Gabriel (13 Mar 1987). "Religious Book Week--Critics' Choices". Commonweal. 114 (5): 157. ISSN 0010-3330. It is filled with catchy examples and clever twists that force the reader to confront ultimate questions. One might disagree with his premise and therefore not like his conclusion; his argument, nevertheless, is almost irresistible.
  8. ^ Stuttaford, Genevieve (11 July 1986). "Nonfiction--Finite and Infinite Games". Publishers Weekly. 230 (2): 62. ISSN 0000-0019. Profound and provocative when he is not being glib or pontificating, Carse urges us to become "infinite players," storytellers who can never know the outcome of our own stories.
  9. ^ Haught, John F. (5 January 1987). "The Best Way to Do Philosophy". The Washington Times Magazine. p. 6M. Though he does not use the traditional expressions "faith" or "idolatry," possibly because such words have lost their punch for many of us, the book is really a subtle and seductive restating of the fundamental options of authentic vs. inauthentic existence previously set forth by the likes of Søren Kierkegaard.... But, as in the case of Bergson and modern existentialism (which seems to have deeply influenced the author), the spirit of Descartes still hovers over Mr. Carse's dichotomies at the same time that Descartes' mechanism is being challenged.
  10. ^ "Finite and Infinite Games". Kirkus Reviews.
  11. ^ "DAVID CHALMERS". What Is It Like to Be a Philosopher?. Cliff Sosis. 28 September 2016. Archived from the original on 20 March 2020. Retrieved 20 March 2020. I read things like the Tao Te Ching, The Tao is Silent by Raymond Smullyan, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, philosophical novels by Umberto Eco and Hermann Hesse, and Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse (a neglected classic in the philosophy of living, I think). Somehow all that got me into thinking more and more about philosophy and especially about consciousness.

External links[edit]