This question may not be germane to EL&U, but I imagine it is almost certainly too simple for another Stack Exchange site such as Philosophy. (Is there one for the ethical aspects of communication?!)

Here's the back story which triggered my question (and I apologize for its length):

Having entered a book and record store for the first time, I gravitated quite naturally to the used record section and began to select a few records to purchase. Of the handful of records I chose, only one was priced; the others had no pricing sticker on them.

When I went to pay for the records, the owner of the store went immediately to his PC and began typing-in some information. Having been in this situation before at another used-merchandise store, I immediately recognized what he was doing. He was looking up what my chosen items were selling for on the internet (perhaps eBay, Discogs, or Amazon, for example) and then pricing them accordingly.

Prior to giving him my yes or no on the merchandise, I perhaps made the mistake of suggesting that what he just did in making me wait while he researched how much he should charge me for my items was cheating.

Now I assure you, by the way I used the word cheating I did not mean to imply he was doing something immoral or unethical. I guess you could say my demeanor and tone of voice were more playful than deadly serious (like the card player in a classic western film who accuses the dealer of cheating and in so doing triggers a gun fight).

Given the standard dictionary definitions of cheating, about the only one which is at least kind of apt is "to elude or to escape." In that sense, the store owner was eluding/escaping having to sell the items I'd chosen for much less than the internet indicated they are worth. Was my use of the word cheating apt in this situation?

The store owner certainly took umbrage at my use of the word cheating. Being an orthodox Jew, he may have reacted as any faithful adherent to Judaism might react, but I certainly didn't intend to say he was guilty of a moral or ethical lapse. Such is the power of language, I guess, to evoke such reactions when a word touches a "hot button."

Nevertheless, I am still wondering how I could have phrased my comment better, or how I might have explained in what sense I was using the word cheating.(**)

In short, what expression or word may have been more apt in this situation and may have served not to offend?


** The sense in which I used the word cheating was the same way in which I might use the word--playfully--if a friend and I are shooting pool, and just before I take my next crucial shot in the game he coughs or clears his throat in order to rattle me. There was no moral or ethical lapse on his part, just some good-natured jagging (a Pittsburghism for yanking my chain).

In retrospect, I think maybe what I should have said--and I'm unsure on this, which is why I'm asking my question--is something along the lines of, "I see what you're doing on the computer. It's pretty transparent to me that you're keeping me waiting in order to find out what you should charge me for my records. Doesn't that strike you as being a little unfair to me? You're doing what you should have done already prior to my entering the store."

closed as primarily opinion-based by David, Davo, Edwin Ashworth, 1006a, Mitch Sep 8 '17 at 15:46

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    The word "cheating", as commonly used, has many different shades of meaning. In many contexts your tone of voice would carry more meaning than the word itself. – Hot Licks Sep 4 '17 at 1:04
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    I suppose if your jurisdiction requires clear pricing then the store owner broke a law. Otherwise, setting a customer up to walk away is bad business, but even in other retail contexts the POS system has to look up something. If you sensed they were aiming for maximum price in a haggle, that might be "unsportsmanlike" – user662852 Sep 4 '17 at 2:09
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    Collectible items are a different case than easily restocked items that can be restocked at a known price. While it might make it less interesting for customers to shop at the store, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with a dialogue about pricing of a one of a kind thing... and looking up what he could sell the item for online seems completely fair. Many customers might prefer shopping at a place with marked prices (he might lose business to them) but all collectibles are priced arbitrarily. – Tom22 Sep 4 '17 at 3:21
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    As to the word "cheating", it really would depend on the exact words you used - and from your comments, even if you were using a cheery voice, it sounds like you might have otherwise displayed some misgivings with body language or the precise type of cheery voice. Expressing misgivings combined with the word "cheating" is a fairly strong rebuke... I mean ... clearly we wouldn't think cheerfully attributing a manner to someone's ethnicity would be appropriate .. not that you did that but you did walk a fine line using the word cheating related to a policy. – Tom22 Sep 4 '17 at 3:36
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    It would have helped if they had a sign like "Interested in an item? Let us look up a price for you!" ... and if you had any misgivings, to simply bring it up - "interesting way of pricing" to hear an explanation. Certainly though, I would think that price would be a major factor in whether or not you were interested in an item .. and certainly many vintage items can be unusually expensive - I wouldn't go up to the counter expecting to purchase the items.. I'd bring the items up and ask for prices of each then think about it. – Tom22 Sep 4 '17 at 3:46

To respond to your title, the answer is no.

Cheating is defined as violating the rules which apply to a situation. To do so is only a moral or ethical failure if you accept the rules as morally or ethically valid.

The best example of an alternative viewpoint is the old SEAL maxim:

If you're not cheating, you're not trying.

In this case, winning (however defined in the existing situation) is considered more important than adherence to arbitrary, or even discriminatory, rules.

  • Uh… WhatRoughBeast, on what basis could you accept rules, other than as morally or ethically valid? Gunpoint isn't a rule. – Robbie Goodwin Sep 10 '17 at 20:17
  • @RobbieGoodwin - "Gunpoint isn't a rule." - No, but it's the original basis of law. "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from begging in the streets, stealing bread, and sleeping under bridges." Virtually all traffic laws are based neither on morality nor on ethics. The same goes for any number of modern governmental regulations which can get you fined heavily if you ignore them - zoning laws, environmental protection, noise, property use, etc. And criminal laws such as drug enforcement are only tenuously linked to either justification. – WhatRoughBeast Sep 11 '17 at 0:12
  • Ho ho ho and you're showing how this really belongs either somewhere simpler like ELL or some more profound forum for, yes philosophy. – Robbie Goodwin Sep 11 '17 at 20:57

Please drop any thought of a back story. If the question is about cheating then yes, there has to be a moral or ethical failure… that’s the broad definition of cheating.

Check with every dictionary you care for and still, any thought of a back story could only detract from that…

  • Yes, but . . .. There are senses in which we use the word (or forms of the word) that do not imply a moral or ethical failure. Examples: 1. My use of the word with the store owner referred to in my question; 2. When referring to glasses as "cheaters"; 3. The failure to do a complete repetition of, say, a pull-up on a chinning bar, or to bounce the barbell off one's chest when doing a bench press; 4. To cheat death by doing something almost supernatural, or something requiring awe-inspiring skill, or by simply being "lucky." – rhetorician Sep 5 '17 at 22:52
  • Uh… no, there are not. Every use of the word either includes a moral or ethical failure, or is a mistake - as in your record-store example - or both. – Robbie Goodwin Sep 5 '17 at 23:50
  • Guess we'll need to agree to disagree (and I hope agreeably!). While I do not want to discount or ignore completely the linking of cheating with moral or ethical failure, I also think there is a grey area that offers a little freedom from the legitimate constraints of morality and ethics. If, for example, a husband tells his wife to close her eyes before he presents her with a diamond necklace and she peeks, her husband could say playfully, "Ah, you're cheating." That sort of thing. @user662852 is on the right track when he suggested a less loaded term: unsportsmanlike. – rhetorician Sep 6 '17 at 11:19
  • Are there or are there not rules to close your eyes and you'll get a nice surprise? Is it somehow wrong to break them? Clearly. Is it illegal to break them? Clearly not. Is it morally wrong? Possibly. Is it ethically wrong? Well, now. Isn't the broad definition of ethics, a set of rules applying to a specific situation or field, and isn't that such a strong application that it specifically authorises professional bodies such as the BMA in medicine or the FA in soccer - how different could we get? - to take the place of criminal courts? Please think more deeply. – Robbie Goodwin Sep 7 '17 at 18:51
  • I think my problem, at times, is that I think too deeply. BTW, I did not downvote your answer, just in case you were wondering. Don – rhetorician Sep 8 '17 at 0:59

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