It was a typical evening of poker. I am taking Shoemaker’s chips as reliably as Trump belittles accusers. I am reading his cards as if he had on mirrored sunglasses. Lesser players, such as Wall, are already turning their attention away from the game, which by now even they realize they are doomed to lose, to manufacturing excuses and rationalizations for their poor play.
I see that Shoemaker by luck has managed a decent hand on the turn, two pair, 6’s and 9’s. I’ve got nothing and no prospects. My only real hope is to persuade him I have a good hand and bluff him into folding. My betting post flop has intentionally represented that I am on a straight draw. Now on the river a card comes up completely compatible with my bluff. It is plausible that the river completes my straight and I bet as if it did in order to persuade him that I did. My body language is consciously managed to persuade him that I am not bluffing and that I hit my straight and am confident and want him to call. He buys it! I persuade him I have a better hand than him and he folds. I congratulate myself on my deception.
But then I get to wondering if I lied. Even if we reject Kant’s implausibly strong claim that it is never ok to lie, still lying for personal gain in a 0 sum game seems problematic and I did not think of myself as doing anything morally problematic. I comfort myself that I did not literally lie. Well, I did literally say he better fold because I hit my straight, but is that really a lie in this context? I saw that as part of the game. But suppose I didn’t say that. Still, I was fully and intentionally engaged in the project of trying to deceive him about my hand. I try telling myself this is not a real lie in this context. Maybe it is sort of like saying lines in a play that I know are not true. But, that doesn’t seem right. I literally wanted the real life person I was interacting with to believe a falsehood. At most the actor wants the fictional character they are interacting with to believe what they are saying, not the real life human actor. And presumably the actor is not deceiving with an eye to personal gain for the actor. But, I try telling myself, this is a context in which such intentional deception has been agreed to. Well, not explicitly, of course, but tacitly. Just as we tacitly agree that our opponent can castle in certain circumstances when we settle down to play them in chess. But Kant would presumably be unimpressed but this, I realize. If consequentialists lie to other consequentialists and say that it was tacitly agreed that it was ok to lie in such contexts, I assume Kant would not be ok with that. Aren’t we tacitly agreeing that it is ok to lie? Even if we say that we did so tacitly agree, we are still saying that I lied, right? So did I lie but it was not wrong? Intuitively I assume we think I did not lie. But I did seriously intend to deceive for personal gain? Isn’t that lying? Did I lie?