Can You Cheat Yourself?

This week’s session is on the theme of cheating. When does being smart and innovative end, and cheating begin? Is it possible to cheat yourself?

First, gather examples of when people might cheat. These could be confessions, or anonymised examples of when people have been on the receiving end of cheating, or general situations from child or adult life. Some questions about what quite counts as cheating may start to emerge already. These might also tie in nicely with World Book Day today – if there are any dastardly deeds in books you’ve recently explored. 

Stimulus 1 – Sailing or Cycling?

The America’s Cup is the world’s most famous sailing race, and the oldest international sporting trophy in existence. In a sailing race, you need to be able to adjust, lower and hoist sails really quickly to make the most of the wind. The sails on an America’s cup yacht are huge – 300 square metres, so it takes a lot of power and that power has to be provided by humans.

Traditionally, the sailors did this by turning arm-operated winches – imagine the motion of stirring a bowl of cake mixture as fast as possible, but with a very hard-to-stir mixture- it’s hard work! In 2017, the New Zealand team found a new way to supply the power. What do you think it was?

This is not a philosophical question, but it’s a fun guessing game. It has to be HUMAN power. One macabre suggestion was incinerating the body of a deceased crew member to create energy…

Which are the biggest muscles in the body? The thigh muscles. And who have massive thigh muscles that are used to generating lots of power? Cyclists! The New Zealand team replaced the arm power winches with ones powered by cycling on stationary bikes, one of which was powered by a professional cyclist.

Cheating, or not cheating?

Facilitation Tip – Capturing Disagreements

In the discussion that followed the first time I ran this stimulus at, there were some very clear and conflicting statements of principle which I captured and reflected to the group to see which they agreed with. I named these principles after their creators:

ROBIN’S LAW: It’s not cheating if there are no rules against it.

TAMARA’S LAW: Anything that makes the odds better for you by changing things (not by you getting better) is cheating.

If you get two clearly expressed but opposing points of view such as these, it really helps an enquiry zing along. This is known as an aporia – two statements that each sound plausible, but which can’t both be true at the same time. A good philosophical stimulus is essentially an “aporia pump” chosen or created to bring to the surface just these sort of perplexities.

Stimulus 2 – Cheating in Video Games

This is a shortened version scenario 8 from the 2024 finals case study set of the Ethics Cup.

People who play first person shooting games against other players, such as Fortnite, get really annoyed by other players who make changes to their computer that aren’t part of the normal game. For example, some people use “aimbots” that automatically point your weapon perfectly, eliminitating the need for skill, or a “killaura” that hacks the game so that any target within range is killed automatically. Is using those ALWAYS cheating?

But what about single-player games, in which the aim is to complete the game, and nobody else is directly involved? In most games that have lots of levels you work through to get to the end, you have a certain number of lives and when they’re all gone, it’s game over and you have to start again. But sometimes you can “mod” a game by using a script that gives you infinite lives. So, you can keep trying and the game isn’t over until you’ve completed it!

Can you cheat in a game that only has one player?

Can you cheat yourself?

Best wishes,

Jason and Tom

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