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An Ethical Dilemma in Education


The incidence of academic dishonesty has been on the rise for the last decade (Orosz, Farkas, and Roland-Lévy 1). Unethical behavior is often pursued to obtain passing grades that are regarded as real indicators of success by some students. In an attempt to receive a passing grade on assignments or exams learners engage in cheating and plagiarism, thereby sacrificing their education. The pressure to succeed in universities and colleges pushes a significant number of students to act outside conventional frameworks of ethics and act dishonestly (Orosz, Farkas, and Roland-Lévy 1). This paper aims to explore an ethical dilemma in which I am being faced with a situation opening an opportunity to engage in unethical behavior to reap the benefits of passing a midterm exam without the necessity to study for it. It will provide a proposal that is based on observations, assumptions, and value judgments. The issue will be examined using frameworks of ethics of purpose, ethics of principle, and ethics of consequence. An alternative will also be presented to explore contrasting worldviews, thereby supporting my proposal.

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I should not browse through the professor’s directory in an attempt to obtain answers to the incoming midterm exam, because not only it ignores academic conventions, but also harms an individual doing it. When faced with a right-versus-wrong dilemma in academic settings, we should abide by conventional rules of academic honesty, thereby acknowledging that they have been put in place to establish a fair and equal society. We are all part of a nation in which decent conduct contributes to an environment where the quality of education is reflective of one’s real achievements. In an alternative world where a lack of moral integrity leads to a majority of students pursuing their academic goals through unfair means, the value of diplomas significantly diminishes. A counterargument that will be dissected in a section bellow states that I should cheat because it is important to gain a passing grade which is reflective of how good of a student I am.

An Ethics of Consequence

To start unraveling the ethical dilemma of whether it is appropriate to cheat on the exam, it is necessary to address the common misconception that serves as a basis for the alternative argument presented in the previous section of the paper and posits that grades are equal to the academic worth of a student. It can be argued that the behavior of parents that scorn their children for bad grades creates a view that equates students’ performance on written assignments and exams to how good they are in an academic sense (Orosz, Farkas, and Roland-Lévy 2). To dismantle this misconception, I will utilize a moral framework of utilitarianism developed by Jeremy Betham and John Stuart Mill that gave rise to an ethics of consequences (Brown 51). A utilitarian approach views the right action as one that creates the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals (Wibbeke, Enthony, and Sarrah 68).

By assuming that grades are equal to the academic worth of a student, one eliminates the distinction between those learners that have engaged in academic dishonesty by cheating or plagiarizing and those who have not. Therefore, in the framework of an ethics of consequences, it is clear that such an assumption would lead to the creation of the world in which all or almost all students are cheating because there is no reason not to. Needless, to say that such a world would not result in the production of the greatest good for which utilitarian philosophers strive; therefore, this position is untenable (Wibbeke, Enthony, and Sarrah 68). The fact that a student who believes that grades are the proxy of their worth and pursues them via dishonest means without studying for exams and engaging in other forms of academic attainment will not be able to succeed in American society shows that this argument is indefensible.

Furthermore, by applying a “moral calculus” (Brown 51) developed by Bentham and Mill to this issue, it is possible to estimate that the main criterion for choosing a right action—“the greatest happiness for the greatest number”—will not be met if all students start forsaking their academic duties because of the misbegotten assumption that grades equal to their worth. The evaluation of this view shows that a country guided by such principle will quickly discover that it has been bereft of professionals of all stripes that not only make life comfortable but also are a prerequisite for the existence of complex societal structures. According to Moor, “when considering consequences, we evaluate the benefits and harms” (“Just Consequentialism” 66). I understand that harm created by academic dishonesty outweighs its benefits; therefore, I would not look at the professor’s files because I don’t want to be a part of a society in which cheating is normal.

An Ethics of Principle

By defending my position from the ethics of principle, I will argue that a person has a moral responsibility to enforce the rules of academic honesty and act ethically. Ethics of principle, also known as deontological ethics, posits that moral rules have intrinsic worth and, therefore, should be binding on moral actors (Wibbeke, Enthony, and Sarrah 69). The deontological approach affirms that by breaking principles of academic honesty, one commits wrongdoing not only against communal ethics but also against their self-interest. To explain how acting outside an ethical framework of society might harm one’s self-interest, it is necessary to dissect this issue under the microscope of Aristotelean ethics.

An Aristotelian stance on ethics posits that human nature is to be rational to pursue happiness through the means of reason (Moor, “If Aristotle” 16). According to Aristotle’s view of happiness, it is produced “by human activity guided by virtue” (Moor, “If Aristotle” 16). To apply this notion to the moral dilemma of cheating on the midterm exam, it is necessary to consider that even one transgression might trigger a chain of events, eventually forming a habit of engaging in dishonest behaviors that might go well beyond the scope of an academic setting. On the other hand, if one constantly strengthens their virtues and strives for acting honestly in all situations, they will acquire a character of “courage, temperance, and honesty” (Moor, “If Aristotle” 16). It is important to understand that “virtue is a matter of doing, not merely a matter of knowing” (Moor, “If Aristotle” 16); therefore, while it might be tempting to run a harm-vs-benefit calculation, which on the surface might produce a result driving one to dishonest behavior, it is necessary to remember that one’s psyche might become irreparably damaged from cheating. I want to attain happiness in life; therefore, I would not look at the professor’s files because this act might prevent me from becoming a fulfilled person which is only possible through exercising virtues.

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An Ethics of Purpose

From a perspective of an ethics of purpose, also known as teleological perspective, taking advantage of the absence of my friend to obtain answers to the midterm exam would be morally indefensible (Wibbeke, Enthony, and Sarrah 70). In words of Winograd, “the domain in which an action is assessed is not necessarily the same as the domain in which the actor interprets it” (28). It is an extremely important point because the framework of teleology aims to draw a distinction between an act and away it is being characterized by a moral actor committing it. An ethic of purpose views an action that aims at attaining a good result as right and one that will bring negative consequences as wrong. Therefore, in approaching the moral dilemma of cheating on a midterm exam from a teleological perspective, one has to consider the possible outcomes of such action.

I do not believe that the ends justify the means; thus, I can’t justify academic dishonesty using ethics of purpose. Quite the contrary: if I were to engage in cheating the result would not be good but would be one that might damage my education, thereby diminishing my future chances for success in life. Judging an intention to cheat as a good one challenges both the spirit of the Aristotelian framework of ethics and one’s self-interest that hinges on the quality of one’s academic attainment as opposed to an external appearance of acquired knowledge that is evident from grades. Therefore, from the teleological perspective, engaging in academic dishonesty is a behavior that cannot result in positive outcomes because it harms an individual perpetrating inappropriate actions. This line of argument brings me to a point where I have to conclude that by using normative standards of a system of ethics of purpose, it is impossible to justify cheating on the midterm exam.


The balanced assessment of a situation in which I am provided with an opportunity to gain access to answers to a midterm exam located on the professor’s computer leads me to the conclusion that the act of breaking rules of academic honesty cannot be justified by using one of the following ethical frameworks: ethics of purpose, ethics of principle or teleology. Therefore, I should not look at the professor’s directory, thereby gaining answers to the incoming midterm exam, because not only it would ignore academic conventions, but also would harm me in the process of doing so.

I try to follow Aristotelian dictums on ethics which state that human nature is to be rational to pursue happiness through the means of reason (Moor, “If Aristotle” 16). From Aristotle’s view of happiness, it follows that I should not engage in dishonest behaviors, and instead should seek any opportunity to exercise virtues. Moreover, even one wrongdoing might trigger a chain of events, eventually forming a habit of engaging in dishonest behaviors that might go well beyond the scope of an academic setting. It means that after judging cheating a dishonest behavior, I should make a harm-vs.-benefit calculation and determine that such action will bring me more harm than good and, hence, it should not be taken.

Works Cited

Moor, James. “If Aristotle were a Computing Professional.” ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society, vol. 28, no. 3, 1998, pp. 13-16.

“Just Consequentialism and Computing.” Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 1, 1999, pp. 65-69.

Orosz, Gabor, David Farkas, and Christine Roland-Lévy. “Are Competition and Extrinsic Motivation Reliable Predictors of Academic Cheating?” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 4, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1-19.

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Wibbeke, Enthony, and Sarrah McArthur. Global Business Leadership. Routledge, 2013.

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StudyCorgi. "An Ethical Dilemma in Education." February 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "An Ethical Dilemma in Education." February 23, 2021.


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