Cheating in Business: A Metaethical Perspective

Journal of Business Ethics 162 (3):519-532 (2020)
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Although the managerial practice of cheating spans complex and heterogeneous situations, most business ethics scholars consider that the very idea of cheating is indefensible on moral grounds, and quickly dismiss it as wrongdoing. This paper proposes to fine-tune this conventional moral assessment by arguing that some forms of cheating can be justified—or at least excused. To do so, it starts with a value-free definition of cheating that covers a wide diversity of situations: “breaking the rules while deliberately leading or allowing others to think they have been respected.” While using this definition at the metaethical level, the paper contends that the moral assessment of cheating depends on the obligation to comply with the rules. There are rules which do not entail moral obligations, and there are special circumstances where other more important obligations override the obligation to comply with the rules. Furthermore, the paper argues that respecting the penalty rules also influences the moral assessment of cheating on the rules. The key interest of this endeavor lies in contributing to building a more solid theoretical framework for the study of cheating in management, which may replace our common prejudices and basic intuitions on this matter.



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