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Cheating: Elements, Domains, and Issues

The purpose of this discussion is to examine cheating and its ethical nature in a number of domains.

Dictionary Definitions (

1.  Verb (used with object)

…  a.  to defraud; swindle: He cheated her out of her inheritance.

…  b.  to deceive; influence by fraud: He cheated us into believing him a hero.

…  c.  to elude; deprive of something expected: He cheated the law by suicide.

2.  Verb (used without object)

…  d.  to practice fraud or deceit: She cheats without regrets.

…  e.  to violate rules or regulations: He cheats at cards.

…  f.  to take an examination or test in a dishonest way, as by improper access to answers.

…  g.  (Informal) to be sexually unfaithful: Her husband knew she had been cheating all along.  He cheated on his wife.

Elements of Cheating

Lying.  The Stanford Encyclopedia’s definition of lying posits four necessary conditions for the purpose of analyzing the definition and the dozen adaptations designed to address the objections.  The conditions are:

…  a.   Statement condition - lying requires that a person make a statement.

…  b.  Untruthfulness condition - lying requires that the person believe the statement to be false, that is, lying requires that the statement be untruthful.

…  c.  Addressee condition - lying requires that the untruthful statement be made to another person.

…. d.  Intention to deceive addressee condition - lying requires that the person intend that that other person believe the untruthful statement to be true.

Cheating.  To derive a parallel analysis for the purpose of the discussion of a cheating definition the following necessary conditions are proposed:

…  a.  Cheating requires that a person enter into a transaction.

…  b.  Cheating requires that the person believe the transaction is unfair to his advantage.

…  c.  Cheating requires that the transaction involves some unfairness to the other person.

…  d.  Cheating requires that person intends that the other person believe the transaction is fair, or to the other person’s advantage.

Information Management – deception, withholding information, information is power.

Does cheating always involve information management? Deception?


…  1.  Legal

……..  a.  Criminal (subject to punishment:  incarceration/supervision, or fines) –  breaking laws, stealing (violent or white collar), perjury, evidence tampering, traffic violations

……..  b.  Civil (subject to financial judgments) – contract default, negligence

Authority:  Laws and rules politically or culturally determined?  Democratic majority (51% majority x 40% participation < 25%):  Elected or appointed officials/representatives?

Can the enforcement system cheat?

...  2.  Private Transactions – individual, commercial, industrial, global corporations, monopoly/monopsony; contracts, applications/resumes; competitive sports (performance enhancement), ticket/product scalping.

Cheating on test:  Who’s hurt?  Grading scale:  Absolute or curve?

Pursuing status:  Respect of others?  Economic benefits?  Opportunities:  better coaching/mentoring; more prestigious institutions or events for development/performance/demonstration?

Does unfairness equal cheating?  In an egalitarian regime, is using talents, knowledge, education, parental resources to succeed unfair/cheating?

Group vs. Individual Issues?

…  a.  Fallacy of Composition:  Group membership does not imply that individual interests coincide with group/collective interests/goals.

…  b.  Altruism; altruism with conscious expectation of reciprocation; informal insurance policy; fair weather friends.

…  c.  Connectedness.

…  d.  Cost of benefits vs. benefits

…  3.  Public Transactions – taxes, eminent domain, collective goods, free rider, trade agreements, joint development agreements, foreign aid, international loans, international currency agreements/transactions, Federal/State mandates, authority/rights issues, monopsony; trust funds (entitlements); wars, sanctions.

Military draft:  Exposing others to risk?

Public goods and free rider problem.

…  a.  Jointness of supply – once available to one, available to all

…  b.  Non-rivalness of consumption – consumption by one has no impact on the consumption by others

…  c.  Impossibility of exclusion – Once supplied impossible to exclude any

Can the government cheat?

Other Issues

Can cheating be OK?  When?

Cheater Detection – There is significant, but unresolved, literature on the issue of cheater detection, often using work by Cosmides and Tooby as the starting point.  Mostly it is about logical thinking, but also calls on mind theory and how the human mind has developed some unique logical algorithms to perform cheater detection tasks.  An extensive analysis of the issues raised in the literature is provided by Sperber and Girotto.

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  • Gerald M.

    An interesting discussion about no tolerance vs some leeway, which tended toward noting some of the potential advantages of the latter.

    November 24, 2013

  • John W

    Dan Ariely is a professor of Psychology and Behavior Economics at Duke who does research on cheating. His studies have found that "everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats--just by a little". See for a Wall Street Journal article, Why We Lie

    See: for a video "Free Beer: The truth about dishonesty. The video is about 30 minutes long and gives some of his research results.

    November 22, 2013

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