David Bruce (born 1954): Is It Ethical to Plagiarize?

DAVID BRUCE

David Bruce

Ethics will be a concern in your life. At times, you may have to decide if a certain action you are thinking of doing or a certain communication you are thinking of writing is moral. Therefore, it is a good idea to know some ethical rules and how to apply them to real life.

Mama Bruce’s Ethical Rules

The rules of ethics are T-shirt simple, and chances are, your mother is an expert in ethics. I know that my mother was. Here are Mama Bruce’s T-shirt simple ethical rules:

  • If you are allowed to do it, everyone (in a similar position to yours) should be allowed to do it.
  • Treat other people the way that you want to be treated.
  • Do actions that have good consequences

Mama Bruce’s Ethical Questions

Along with the ethical rules go ethical questions. These are questions that a person can ask when determining whether an action that person is thinking of doing is moral:

  • What would happen if everyone were to do what you are thinking of doing?
  • Would you want done to you what you are thinking of doing to other people?
  • What are the consequences of the action you are thinking about doing?

Is Plagiarism Morally Justified?

Let’s apply Mama Bruce’s ethical rules and ethical questions to determine whether plagiarism is morally justified:

  • What would happen if everyone were to do what you are thinking of doing?

If everyone plagiarizes papers, the professor will think of another way to have students write papers that are not plagiarized. For example, a professor friend of mine stopped giving take-home exams (the answers to which were sometimes plagiarized) and started giving in-class essay exams. There is a contradiction here. The student makes the rule “I will plagiarize my paper,” but if every student follows the rule, soon it will become impossible to plagiarize. Students will no longer have the opportunity to learn how to write papers outside of class — this kind of writing is a job skill. Alternatively, if everyone in a course that requires papers (such as a composition course) plagiarizes, then everyone will receive lower grades, perhaps even F’s.

  • Would you want done to you what you are thinking of doing to other people?

Suppose the student writes a truly excellent paper, then later finds out that the professor has plagiarized the paper and published it in a journal. Of course, now the student is unable to publish the paper that the student wrote because the student will be accused of plagiarizing the professor’s paper. Is this fair?

  • What are the consequences of the action you are thinking about doing?

One consequence, of course, is that the student will learn much less than the student would have learned if the student had actually done the work. It also means that parents and taxpayers are getting a poor return on the money that they are paying for the student’s education. Also, a teacher who has been overwhelmed with cases of plagiarism may think of leaving the education field in order to pursue a lucrative and exciting career as an international jewel thief. In addition, if lots of students plagiarize at Ohio University, then Ohio University will become known as the Plagiarism School, and the value of a degree from Ohio University will be lessened. Finally, being caught plagiarizing can result in a grade of F for the paper, a grade of F for the course, and/or referral to Ohio University Judiciaries.

Additional Questions

  • When is it ethical to use someone else’s words and ideas?

Of course, the correct answer is when the student gives credit to the other person.

  • Suppose someone plagiarizes an excellent communication created by an experienced professional working in the field and that communication receives an A. What happens to the student-written papers that would have normally received an A?

The standard for an A in the course is likely to go up. If the plagiarized paper gets an A, then the student-written papers that would have normally received an A may receive grades of A- or lower.

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William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure: A Retelling in Prose, by David Bruce

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