Concepts Unwrapped | Systematic Moral Analysis

Concepts Unwrapped | Systematic Moral Analysis


[Professor Deni Elliott] Students know cheating
is wrong, and that it’s a violation of school policy to smuggle notes into an exam, or to
copy a neighbor’s answers. But what if a friend, who’s failing the
class, asks you for answers to a test? Or if you see someone you don’t know cheating? Does it matter if you report it or not? Systematic Moral Analysis, or SMA for short,
is a tool that helps us think through ethically complex situations before taking action. And it can also help us analyze the ethical
dimensions of a complex situation after the fact. Consider this scenario: Some people in your
class got a copy of last year’s final. You know that at least half the class has
already looked at the questions. Now, you’re offered a copy. What should you do? The first step of SMA is conceptualization,
which involves determining who might be harmed and how. If no one is likely to be harmed, then there’s
no ethical problem. But how do we really know if we’re about to
cause harm? [James] You probably will notice that you
doubt yourself. [Nikki] There is like something irking you,
like, it’s not as easy of a decision as you may be accustomed to. 20th Century Philosopher Bernard Gert developed
a list of 10 moral rules that can help us identify ethically questionable acts. 1) Do not kill. 2) Do not cause pain. 3) Do not disable. 4) Do not deprive of freedom or opportunity. 5) Do not deprive of pleasure. 6) Do not deceive. 7) Keep your promises. 8) Do not cheat. 9) Obey the law. 10) Do your duty. So, if you decide to take a peek at the old
exam, then you’re violating Rule #8: Do Not Cheat. According to Gert, cheating causes harm because
“the cheater gains an advantage over other participants in the activity, by violating
the rules that everyone is expected to follow.” You’re also violating Rule #10: Do Your Duty. As a student in the class, you have a responsibility
to abide by the rules that you agreed to follow that were set out by the professor and the
university. You are violating Rule #6: Do Not Deceive. Your professor, and anyone who reviews your
transcript, will assume that you earned your grade honestly. You’ve misled them to a false conclusion. That’s deception. You’re also violating Rule #7: Keep Your Promise
by breaking the promise you’ve made to the university under the honor code. And you’re causing harm to students who haven’t
seen the old exam by violating Rule #4: Do not deprive of freedom or opportunity. You’re depriving them of the freedom, or,
in this case, the opportunity, to have their work evaluated in an honest comparison with
others in the class. They’ll be unfairly harmed by grade inflation
caused by the cheating. So clearly, looking at last year’s test is
ethically questionable. [Hannah] In my undergraduate geology course,
someone had actually had a friend that had already taken a test, recorded the answers,
and was selling it to the class that was about to take the test. I was a little bit jealous that a lot of people
had the answers to that geology test and I did not, but deep down I think I made the
right decision. [Prachi] That’s one reason why I prefer not
to cheat: because at the end of the day I’m cheating myself and not anybody else. The second step of SMA is justification, which
helps determine whether breaking a moral rule prevents a greater harm from occurring or
whether the harm you are causing legitimately addresses a more significant harm that was
already caused. The goal of justification is to determine
the action that 1) Causes the least harm to others
2) Can withstand public scrutiny, and 3) Would be ethically permissible for anyone
in a similar situation. So, what if there were a publicly known rule
that students should cheat whenever they are not likely to get caught? Well, this would threaten the integrity of
the class and weaken the value of a degree from the university. It would also destroy the university’s ability
to certify that students graduate with the knowledge that they need in their field. A general rule that allows academic cheating
cannot be justified. And, if you can’t do something without making
a secret exception for yourself, SMA tells us, “Don’t do it.” [Rich] If I would’ve just cheated, I just,
I still wouldn’t have known the material, it wouldn’t have done any good to me, wouldn’t
have done good to my professors who need to know where I stand, and having an accurate
grade on that test is important for that. SMA encourages us to consider alternative
courses of action that would minimize harm. For example, you could tip off the professor
anonymously and suggest that they consider re-writing the exam. Or you could ask the professor to distribute
the old test to everyone in the class. That way, no student would have an unfair
advantage and it would give everyone a chance to know what the professor thinks is most
important. Systematic Moral Analysis doesn’t provide
one right answer, but it does help us fully evaluate a situation, think through possible
courses of action, and avoid negative consequences that might not have occurred to us at the
start. [Letisha] Sometimes, people get caught up
in the benefits and lose sight of the fact that what they’re doing actually can have
an impact on individual lives. Empathy would be the first step into seeing
how each person would react to whatever action I would do. [Samantha] So if you consider everyone else’s
stake in your decision, I think you’ll make a better decision.

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