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Competition between friends/allies in zero-sum games : Ethical?

  1. Jun 22, 2010 #1
    Competition between friends/allies in zero-sum "games": Ethical?

    Hey all,

    In the context of friendships and alliances between countries; will the competition between friends/allies in zero-sum games be unethical? e.g. applying for a one-spot job at some company, two allied countries compete for a rare natural resource at one tiny place in Antarctica..etc, or two young kids compete for what TV channel to be viewed at the only TV in their house. (perhaps these are not perfectly zero-sum situations, but they can be in some cases and/or contexts)

    What are the deciding factors in such similar cases between what is ethical and what is not?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2010 #2


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    Re: Competition between friends/allies in zero-sum "games": Ethical?

    The simple answer is that there are infinitely many factors affecting the winner of the zero sum. One of them being ethical viewpoints. For example, when I want to hire a secretary. In choosing from the candidates I can base my choice in utilitarian principles. What is best for me and the candidates. But from there, how do I know what is best for the candidates? Well, then I can be deterministic and say - you are hired! Now, by being deterministic, did I just define a new level of well-being for all the candidates and myself? Did that make my day? So on.
  4. Jun 27, 2010 #3


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    Re: Competition between friends/allies in zero-sum "games": Ethical?

    In my opinion, the important elements of ethicality in a competitive situation is that the participants all
    - know that they are competing
    - know there is a common set of rules (even if the only rule is: there are no rules)
  5. Jun 28, 2010 #4
    Re: Competition between friends/allies in zero-sum "games": Ethical?

    It depends on how you define ethical and the exact situations and potential consequences of competing as apposed to not competing (so it also depends on the scenario).

    Perhaps maximizing utility among all participants as defined by a publicly agreed criteria (of what constitutes utility maximization) will be what you're attempting to achieve?
  6. Jul 14, 2010 #5
    Re: Competition between friends/allies in zero-sum "games": Ethical?

    Yep I agree that there are many factors affecting the outcome of zero-sum games/competitions. In the example you have provided: If someone finds a job ad about the secretary positions in your example, and that person applied to it and a couple of days after their friends also applied to it (there is only one spot) before the interviews started: Will the friend act be considered ethical?

    If there are already-agreed upon rules, then I totally agree with you. But is there an ethical 'rules of thumb' about competitions between friends or allied countries/entities ..etc that differ from the competition rules with other 'neutral' people?

    Let me illustrate with this scenario which did happen to me in real life:

    A couple of years ago, a friend of mine (let's call him A) was applying for a grant to start a students' project. He asked me to look for people to form a team so we can collaborate in planning and writing it in the best way. I invited someone (B) who did share with us in the grant process. Later on I figured out that (B) was at least involved with 3-4 other teams (or perhaps as far as 6-7) who were also writing to get the same grant. For a philosophical stand-point: is (B) action ethical, even though in some way he was working 'against' all the teams he was involved in?

    The grant was suppose to be given to a tiny number of projects, while competition was intense: some teams will take all and others will lose all.
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