Essay on The Role Of Cheating In Nicomachean Ethics

Cheating on an academic assignment can come in many forms. Stealing someone’s words or ideas and pretending they are one’s own, original composition is cheating. Falsifying numbers or data sets on a formal lab report is cheating. Copying a neighbors answers on an exam is cheating. Cheating and academic dishonesty are often the first things that students are warned about on syllabus day. Horror stories float around about peers who have been expelled from a university for plagiarizing their papers on line. Many students would never dare cheat lest they be caught and forced to face the terrible consequences.

We, as a society, are aware that cheating is morally wrong. But why? Through analyzing both Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, and Utilitarianism by John Stewart Mill, this paper seeks to understand why these men would find cheating on an academic project morally wrong. Both of these men do, in fact, find academic dishonesty morally reprehensible, yet their reasons for thinking this vary significantly. Mill’s theory of Utilitarianism looks at how cheating affects the utility of all involved. Aristotle, on the other hand, inquires how cheating affects the virtue of the person doing the cheating.

Let us begin, then, by delving into the mind and works of Aristotle. Aristotle speaks many times on the fact that virtue is the result of habituation. That only by repeating a virtuous action so many times that it becomes second nature can we truly be virtuous and therefore morally good. He states in Nichmachean Ethics, “And so the virtues arise in us neither by nature nor against nature. Rather, we are by nature able to acquire them, and we are completed through habit” (II. 1, p. 18). Aristotle believes then, that the only way to truly become virtuous is by consistently orcing ourselves to act in a virtuous way until that way becomes habit. Once these virtuous character traits are developed, they will lead us to always make the morally right decision. Through this reasoning, cheating would be considered morally wrong because it breaks the habituation needed to become virtuous. Cheating goes against the ideals of virtue for many reasons. One of these is honesty. Cheating is, in essence, lying in an academic work. Be that through plagiarizing someone else’s ideas as our own or copying the answers from a classmate and lying about our own knowledge.

Cheating is fundamentally a break from honesty. Aristotle also uses means to describe what is and is not virtuous. He states, “Among these three conditions, then, two are vices-one of excess, one of deficiency-and one, the mean, is virtue” (II. 8, p. 27). By conditions he means conditions of character, ways in which we act. For example, the mean of courage includes three conditions: courage, cowardice, and rashness. The vices would be cowardice and rashness, where cowardice is the deficiency and rashness is the excess. The mean that is called into question in the incidence of cheating is that of honesty.

The excess of this mean is boastfulness or insensitivity. For example, it would be insensitive to tell somebody they looked like they had gained weight even if that was the honest truth. Here, staying away from the excess vice means learning what is acceptable and kind to inform people of. The deficiency of honesty is deceit, which is where cheating lies. Aristotle writes about this dishonesty, again in Nicomachean Ethics, “The intermediate person is straightforward, and therefore truthful in what he says or does, acknowledging the qualities he has without exaggerating or belittling” (IV. , p. 64).

This quote gets to the heart of why Aristotle would believe cheating is morally wrong. It is straying away from the mean of honesty by being deceitful about one’s own academic abilities. The morally correct thing to do, then, would be to complete the assignment by one’s own merit even if that meant a lower grade than desire may be received. Mill looks at the dilemma of cheating from a very different angle. Mill considers cheating to be morally wrong because of how it affects the utility (happiness) of all involved.

Mill focuses more strongly on the consequences of the action rather than on the action itself. In Utilitarianism he writes, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (II, p. 7). Therefore to judge what is morally right we must look at the happiness of not only the person committing the action, but at the happiness of all those affected by said action. Let us take as an example a young man who decided to go out the night before a big exam instead of studying.

He wakes up the next morning, realizes he knows nothing, and decides to throw together a sheet full of answers that he will hide in his pocket in order to avoid a bad grade on the exam. He passes the exam with flying colors because of his dishonesty, in fact he receives one of the top grades in the class because he had all the answers in his pocket. Who does this action affect? First off, and most obviously, it affects the man taking the test. It can be argued successfully that his happiness goes up because of the good grade. He is likely pleased that he will not be failing the class.

However, he is not the only person that his action affects. The other students in the class, students that took the test honestly using their own knowledge, are also affected. These students also spent nights studying in the library, while the young man decided to go out. How does his act of cheating affect their own happiness? In all likelihood, his cheating lowers their happiness. It is always upsetting to see somebody get rewarded for something they did no work for. It is even more upsetting to see someone get rewarded for something they did not work for, but someone else worked endlessly on.

Their happiness would also decrease when they realized that the curve was lowered by how well the young man did. Professors curve assignments to ensure there is an even distribution. By cheating, this young man likely knocked many people’s grades lower than they would have been which would significantly lower their happiness. The amount of happiness lost by students who didn’t cheat would not be overturn by the amount of happiness the young man gained, so this would make cheating an immoral act according to Mill.

Another person in this situation to consider is the professor. His happiness would obviously go down by the student who cheated. For one, the student has now broken a huge amount of trust with the professor. The professor, I assume, would in no way be pleased to find out that one of their students had cheated on an exam the professor worked so hard to prepare for. We see that the morally correct course of action would have been for this student to take the test using his own knowledge, instead of relying on cheating.

Although this may result in a bad grade for the young man which would decrease his happiness, Mill recognizes that there are actions that sometimes must be taken for the good of many, even it is not good for us. Mill also writes about utility in his writings. Utility is used to describe how useful a person can be. For example, a 30 year old farmworker has much more utility than someone who is bed ridden with an incurable sickness. Utility relates to happiness in that the more useful someone is, the happier they are. The same principle as stated above applies to utility.

That is, an action is only morally good when it contributes to the overall utility of everyone involved. Going back to the example of the young man above, let us take a look at his utility to show that cheating is still morally bad. It can be assumed that since this young man is in college, taking exams, he must be working towards a degree of some kind. Let us say he is working towards an accounting degree. Although initially his utility went up after cheating, a peek into the future shows that his utility will actually decrease. After graduating college, he will have to take a test to get his accounting license.

By cheating on this exam instead of learning the information himself, he missed out on this knowledge and will therefore be unable to pass the test. His utility will decrease because he will not be able to obtain his license to be an accountant. He will not be useful as someone who holds an accounting degree, because he will have all that information locked in his head with no way to apply it. Through this paper, it is obvious that cheating is always, always morally wrong. Even in a completely selfish way, cheating is just losing knowledge for oneself. Although it is clear that cheating is morally wrong, it is not always clear why.

Aristotle claims that the action is morally wrong in and of itself, regardless of the consequences. Cheating is straving from a virtuous mean. Mill, on the other hand, claims that cheating is morally wrong because of the consequences. He claims that the ends justify the means, or in the case of cheating, that the ends makes the means morally deplorable. The loss of happiness in others in no way makes up for anything the person committing the action may gain. In both views, though, cheating is not to be partaken in if one hopes to be a virtuous, morally upright person.