Applying Ethical Theories sample essay

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Plagiarism in today’s “copy and paste generation” is an unremitting, complex issue that is not yet fully understood. The paper responds to this proposition with a thesis that understanding the ethical reasoning provided by students in defending plagiarism is crucial in preventing it in student populations. The reasons can provide the basis for specific action-orientated recommendations to reduce plagiarism and to design programs to encourage originality and academic honesty within the relevant educational institutions. Moreover, the authors explain that this study has broader implications, given the link between educational plagiarism and the organisation and profitability of businesses. The paper develops an ethical framework to analyse the reasons that students use when defending their plagiarism. This framework is based on previous research into the ethical reasoning of students in different contexts.

The authors explain and apply six ethical theories in the paper: Deontology, Utilitarianism, Rational self-interest, Machiavellianism, Cultural relativism and Situational ethics. The paper uses content analysis methodology to implement the ethical framework described above. Consequently, the research evaluates the recorded content found in the confidential files of students found to have plagiarised work at a US university. This includes the formal process by which the students were charged with plagiarism and how they defended their actions. To ensure the research was not biased two judges were used to evaluate the reasoning.

To ensure a sufficient level of inter-rater reliability, the judges evaluated 20 identical ads before being given the cases used in the study. Their results show students used all 6 ethical theories, deontology being the most common with 41.8% of using this reasoning. Variables such as “Sex, Ethnicity and GPA” had no effect on the student’s ethical reasoning. Students who used the Internet to plagiarize were more likely to resort to Situational ethics and Utilitarianism. The paper concludes by listing a series of recommendations for each ethical theory on how to instil ethical behaviour and help prevent cases of plagiarism.

Critical Analysis of the paper’s purpose

Plagiarism and the internet

Granitz and Lowey describe a new ‘plagiarism epidemic’ in the paper subject to review. The analysis that they present, that plagiarism is increasing due to the ease of which information can be lifted from the internet, is justified by previous academic research. The Internet provides as huge source of information which is easily available to students for use in academic papers (Weinstein & Dobkin, 2002.) Moreover, the way that information is presented and is accessible on the Internet has made plagiarism easier (Klein, 2011). Students have the opportunity to copy and compile information from a variety of sources with speed, particularly when compared with ‘old-style’ plagiarism using hard copy sources.

However, since the publication of the paper in 2006, it could be argued that many professors have become more ‘tech savvy’, particularly with the development of technology in electronic detection tools (Klein, 2011.) Consequently, it is less easy to sustain the argument that transgression may present an ‘irresistible challenge’ to students, as technology improves and if teachers in academic institutions become more technologically adept. Applying ethical reasoning to plagiarism

After a historical analysis of the development of the concept of plagiarism, the paper moves on to conclude that our modern perception of plagiarism is that it is ‘morally reprehensible’. I would critique this approach using the analysis of Morality and Ethics put forward by Klein in 2011. Granitz and Lowey do not appear to consider the extent to which the moral and ethical approach of students in academic institutions may differ from the general modern perception of plagiarism that they describe. Klein describes the research which suggests that there is ambiguity on what is perceived as plagiarism among learners. Quoting Weiss & Bader (2003), ‘ [a]n example of an area of ambiguity might include peer collaboration and knowing to what extent the collaboration is considered inappropriate’.

Consequently, I would argue that the paper does not fully consider the extent to which the ethical problems posed by plagiarism may be problematic because they are non-traditional and that they may not fit easily into existing and well used categorisation systems (Clegg et al., 2007). Instead, the paper seeks to apply ethical philosophies taken from different ethical contexts (albeit ideas used by students) and it maintains the general proposition that plagiarism is considered as morally wrong, without analysing this specifically in relation to students and academic institutions.

Content analysis as a research methodology

The paper applies a content analysis to review student files which record the formal process by which students in a large US West Coast university were ‘charged’ with plagiarism and defended themselves. The article recognises the fact that students may disguise their true reasoning whilst providing the reasoning, but concludes that ‘they are still exposing the logic that they use to defend plagiarism – and being able to counter that logic is valuable for the faculty. This problems has been considered in the business context, in which ‘virtually every empirical inquiry of issues relevant to applied business ethics involves the asking of questions that are sensitive, embarrassing, threatening, stigmatizing, or incriminating” (Dalton and Metzger, 1992, p. 207).

Furthermore, since the early 1950s researchers in organizational sciences have expressed concern that the “tendency of individuals to deny socially undesirable traits and to admit to socially desirable ones” may impair empirical studies based on questionnaires which require respondents to report on their own behaviour or attitudes (Randall and Fernandes, 1991, p. 805)


The paper outlines a basis of recommendations based on the results achieved by the content analysis. Given the above critique of the content analysis, and the limit that the context of asking sensitive or incriminating questions in a business, and I would suggest academic, context, one could critique the assumption put forward in the paper that the recommendations for each ethical theory will achieve the effect of reducing plagiarism in institutions and provide a basis for the implementation of clear academic policies. Moreover, expanding on what I have suggested above, given the critique forwarded by Weiss and Bader (2003), it could be argues that poor public perception of plagiarism in academic institutions may make any changes difficult to implement. I would argue that a more useful critique would be to consider the reasons offered by students in a non-confrontational and stigmatizing context, which could be used to understand the specific ethical context of plagiarism and to produce more specific recommendations.


Clegg, Kornberger and Rhodes: 2007 ‘Business Ethics as Practice’: British Journal of Management 18: 107-122 Dalton, D. R. and M. B. Metzger: 1992, ‘Integrity Testing’ for Personnel Selection: An Unsparing Perspective’, Journal of Business Ethics Kaptein M and Schwartz S: 2008 ‘The Effectiveness of Business Codes: A Critical Examination of Existing Studies and the Development of an Integrated Research Model’, Journal of Business 77: 111-127 Klein D: 2011 ‘ Why Learners Choose Plagiarism: A Review of Literature’, Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects 7 Randall, D., Fernandes, M. F. (1991): The Social Desirability Response Bias in Ethics Research. Journal ofBusiness Ethics Robertson, D.C. (1993). Empiricism in Business Ethics: Suggested Research Directions. Trevino, Linda K., ‘Ethical Decision Making in Organizations: A Person-Situation Interaction Model’, Academy of Management Review, 11(3), 1986, pp.601-617. Weinstein and Dobkin: 2002 ‘Plagiarism in U.S. Higher Education: Estimating Internet Plagiarism Rates and Testing a Means of Deterrence’, USA: Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects, University of California, Berkeley, USA. Weiss, D. H., & Bader, J. B. (2003) Undergraduate ethics at Homewood. Standler, R. B. (2000). Plagiarism in colleges in USA

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