Albert Carr “Is Business Bluffing Ethical?”

Harvard Business Review, 1968

Empirical claims

1.       Typical business practices violate the rules of ordinary morality (e.g., the golden rule, “Christian ethics,” telling the whole truth)

2.       Many/most business people accept these practices as morally permissible

3.       Survival/success in business requires such practices

          1.       Failing to engage in these practices puts one at a serious disadvantage

4.       Business people who act according to ordinary moral rules do so out of self-interest and not for sake of morality

Normative claims

5.       These practices are morally legitimate

          1.       This is how business people ought to act; it is the right way to act in business; business people who act this way are virtuous

6.       Morality in business is insured by obeying the law (the letter, not necessarily the spirit, of the law)

          1.       People in business act correctly as long as they obey the law

Possible arguments for 5 (the moral legitimacy of violating ordinary morality while engaged in business)

7.       1&2 provide sufficient reason for 5?

8.       3 provides sufficient reason for 5?

9.       The poker analogy argument: Different ethics in business

          1.       Like poker, business has its own ethics which are different from the ordinary rules of morality

          2.       It is therefore a mistake to judge business practices by rules of ordinary morality

          3.       By its own moral standards (obeying the law), these business practices are morally legitimate

Possible problems with the poker analogy:

10.     Business is not a game; it has to do with people’s livelihood

11.     It is not clear that all those involved with business have accepted these alternative rules (as people in poker accept poker’s “ethics”)

12.     One is forced to “play the game” of business (in contrast, one choose to play poker or not)

          1.       Even if “you can’t stand the heat” you can’t take Carr’s advice and “get out of the kitchen”

13.     Not easy or appropriate to separate one’s behavior in business from one’s ordinary ethics–one is likely too (and should) affect the other.


14.     Legal “ethics” an example of permissible behavior that violates ordinary moral norms/rules

          1.       Rationale for “legal ethics”

          2.       Similar rationale for separate “business ethics?”