Is It Ethical To Fake It ‘Til You Make It?

As a freelance writer, I find I’m faking it ’til I make it quite a bit. I don’t mean that retarded thing where you pretend to be stupid-rich until you actually are stupid-rich. Because let’s face it, pretending to be stupid-rich likely involves wearing expensive clothes and spending lots of money. In which case, faking it ’til you make it just leads to being stupid poor. That’s not so much immoral as it is dumb.

Here’s what I mean: I basically pretend to know how to do something until I actually know how to do it. This often happens when someone asks me if I know how to write a particular kind of marketing copy. I’ll usually reply in one of two ways: I either say “no, but I’ve done something similar. Here are some samples — let me know if this is what you have in mind” or I just lie and say “Yes, absolutely”.

In the second case, I’m on morally dubious grounds. Hell, I’ve probably done something morally wrong. What about in the first case? It doesn’t seem like it. I’m not telling them that I for sure know how to do it. I’m basically implying that since I’ve done something similar, I should be able to use those same skills to write the kind of copy they’re looking for. In defense of that implication, I show them samples of my work, and they can then decide for themselves if I can get the job done to their satisfaction.

All right, sounds like I’m in the clear.


I don’t think it’s that simple. When I tell them I should be able to do something similar,  I’m aware of this thing called the problem of induction. For the non-philosophically initiated, the problem of induction is basically this: because induction involves making inferences about what’s likely to be true, we cannot say that any inductive conclusion is definitely true.*

“No duh. Why is that a problem?”

It’s a problem because when I infer “well, I’ve done X, so I can probably do Y” I know that I can’t be certain I can actually deliver on Y. That means I can’t be certain if I can get the job done to their satisfaction. If I’m not certain I can provide a satisfactory delivery, it would be irresponsible of me to accept their order.

“What if they come back to you confident in your abilities after looking at samples of your work?”

That depends. If it’s a fellow copywriter who’s looking at my work, maybe then it’s okay for me to accept their order. They would know what makes for good copy, and supposedly they would recognize skill when they saw it. If it’s someone who isn’t a copywriter, it might not be okay. Supposedly, people know good marketing when they see it — after all, what makes for good marketing depends, to some degree, on how people react.

However, what appeals to one person doesn’t appeal to everyone. I have no way of knowing if the person likes my work because it has good marketing qualities, or if it’s simply due to their personal tastes.

“Maybe you have good reason to be confident in your abilities, though. And if they consent, isn’t it on them at that point?”

If I am confident in my abilities, and I kind of am, maybe I shouldn’t be. Logically speaking, the problem of induction ought to be a major stumbling block to me. But it isn’t in practice. Like every other person on earth, I’m irrational and have to get by in life on induction.

Practicalities aside, though, I don’t have any certain logical reason to be confident in my ability to deliver a satisfactory product. In this case, the problem of induction bears upon my interactions with another person. It’s no longer just about me, my resources, my abilities, now it’s about the resources of another human being. That makes it a moral issue.

If I take the problem of induction seriously, yet I insist on accepting their order, that sounds like exploitation. I’m taking advantage of the fact that they believe X about me when I don’t think they have sufficient justification to do so; I’m using the fact that they have certain insufficiently unjustified beliefs about me in order to gain materially. That sounds an awful lot like exploitation.

It would also make me a capitalist pig, but that’s another story.

So, it sounds like I’m wrong to fake it ’til I make it, right?


You’re probably confused now. Good. That’s philosophy for you.

Here’s the thing about the problem of induction: if you follow it long enough, you’ll realize that we can’t be certain about anything. Most, if not everything, we do in real life relies on induction. Follow the problem of induction long enough, and you’ll realize that you can’t even be certain that the road is wet because it rained.

If we allowed our practical lives to be guided by the problem of induction, there’s a lot of stuff that simply wouldn’t get done. That seems like reason enough not to give it final say in our decision making, although we can’t rule it out entirely.

In my case, if I’m dealing with another marketer or copywriter, I don’t need to let the problem of induction have final say. In this case, the party making an offer has a level of expertise to where I can have some confidence that I’m not exploiting them. If it’s someone of a different profession, on the other hand, then I can’t be quite as confident that I’m not exploiting them.

Does this solve the problem of induction? Definitely not. I don’t need to solve it, though. As I asserted above, we need not give it final say in practical decision-making. That makes solving it a non-issue as far as this topic is concerned. Said otherwise, the problem of induction can kiss my ass.

So what’s the moral verdict on faking it till you make it? Short version: it depends.

And that means I’m good to keep exploiting — er, I mean…yeah, exploiting people.

*I’m sure Tim Black, my epistemology professor, is cringing right now because this isn’t a 100% accurate characterization of the problem of induction. There’s a bit more to it than that. I’m just keeping it simple for the sake of brevity. If you want a more accurate version of it, check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on it.


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