Is Bluffing in Business Ethical?

            An article was published over thirty years ago by Carr, titled “Is Business Bluffing Ethical” (Kirkpatrick, 2002). The author argued that business ethics are essential in ethics of a game, specifically the poker game. These ethics differ from the ethics of private life. He maintains that game ethics include practices such as bluffing and not telling the truth, and this is considered being immoral in private life. This article has been cited in many books on business ethics and has become a classic on the subject. However, the main aim of the current paper is to summarise this argument, and to show whether it passes the poker and the business generalizations.

            Carr states that business bluffing can be ethical, provided it is legal and can help businesses gain more profit. He states that a single standard cannot be applied universally because different situations require applying different standards. Carr tried to illustrate his point using a poker game, stating that people playing poker do not abide by the same moral rules that they are likely to abide by in other situations. He demonstrated that in poker, dishonesty and lying are virtues, while in normal situations those traits are considered being immoral. However, he concluded that people who are involved in business should follow different moral code from the ones being used in other circumstances. This is because he feels this code would bring about more benefits in business.

            Apparently, his idea is unique but one of his more conflicting conclusions is that bluffing in business is acceptable, provided businesses will gain as a result of such actions. However, for better understanding of this code, there is the need to understand teleological ethics; they are theories that judge the moral worth of actions by the purpose of such actions. This shows that Carr’s theory is teleological, since such actions can attract more profit to businesses. He demonstrated that even though exhibiting these traits violates ethical norms, they can be considered as good actions.

Does Bluffing Pass Hooker’s Generalization Test in Poker?

            I believe that bluffing in a poker game does pass Hooker’s generalization test, since the game player does have a basic reason for his actions which is to win the game. The game player has not broken any laws, committed any crime, or violated the rules of the game by practicing the art of “bluffing”. He has not forced the other players to bow to his will nor has he asserted any threat of violence. The game player has, within the rules of the game, created the illusion that the cards in his hand are stronger than they actually are, in order to give another player reasoning to change their strategy or fold. All players in the game are striving for the same outcome which is to win the game.

            The premise for the generalization test states that “the reasons for any action should be consistent with the assumption that everyone who has the same reasons acts the same way”. All of the players in the game are trying to bluff the other players in order to win the game which establishes the consistency required to pass the generalization test. Therefore, according to the analogy, bluffing in poker corresponds to Hookers generalization test.

Does Bluffing Pass the Generalization Test in Business?

            In business, an acceptable ethical behavior is usually based on the fact that the agent’s business activities have not violated any federal or state laws. Carr tried to demonstrate that business activity is just a game, and the essential point is that game ethics are applied in business instead of religious ethics. He believes that people who engage in business should display one character at work and another character away from work. He also suggested why and how businesses can fulfil their profit-making purpose, forgetting that individuals have their own purpose. But it is immoral to act in manners that are opposing to one’s own purpose for completing business goals.

            Nevertheless, metaphors and analogies do not constitute theories, which mean that business is not a game. The goal of business is making profit by satisfying the needs of customers, not tricking them into purchasing products they do not need. A good business ethic should not depend on how a business should function, but on how people should live. Even though businesses are consistently attempting to maximize profit, it does not mean they can justify their actions, in order to maximize their profit. Therefore, according to the analysis above, I conclude that Carr’s theory does not pass the generalization test.

            In conclusion, Carr argued that business ethics are essentially similar to the ethics of a poker game, and that these ethics differ from the ethics of private life. He maintains that game ethics include practices such as bluffing which is considered being immoral in private life. His idea is unique but one of his more conflicting conclusions is that bluffing in business is acceptable provided businesses will gain as a result of such action.

However, bluffing in a poker game does pass Hooker’s generalization test, since the game player does have a basic reason for his actions which is to win the game. The game player has not broken any laws, committed any crime, or violated the rules of the game by practicing the art of “bluffing”. Also, metaphors and analogies do not constitute theories, which mean that business is not a game. The goal of business is making profit by satisfying the needs of customers, not tricking them into purchasing products they do not need. And so, the theory does not pass the generalization test.

About the Author

Nancy Bauman is a financial analyst and accounting expert. She is also an expert on business ethics and is constantly participating in university conferences as a member of the Educated Youth Movement. She regularly contributes articles related to business and loans at advanced-writer.com