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Mind Theft and Intellectual Degradation

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Since time immemorial, human beings were already familiar with distinguishing right from wrong. Taking any religious or philosophical perspective from anywhere in the world, the basic rules that govern humanity are to love one another by respecting each other and each other’s property, and to treat others the way you would want yourself to be treated. Simply put, these universal laws (meaning laws that apply to everyone) are called ethics (cited in Valentine, 2006). Furthermore, there is what we call “ethical morality”, which means acting by following the code of law instead of acting upon “what one believes to be good in a given situation” (Valentine, 2006, p.92). Unfortunately, even if such laws exist, people still find ways to violate one another.

Moral Ethics

            Two of the basic things taught to children are not to steal and not to lie, although to lie is also a form of stealing. This is because when one lies, he or she steals the right to know what is true from the person he or she lied to (Hosseini, 2003). Stealing may also be applied in the rule “thou shalt not kill” because that means stealing one person’s life. Thus, that makes the act of stealing the gravest sin. Today, due to evolving technology, the youth have countless chances to steal from other people. One classic and prevalent example that occurs in high schools and universities is the issue of plagiarism.

Defining Plagiarism and How it Works

            First of all, what is plagiarism? It is when one uses ideas of another and claims them to be his or her own. Historically speaking, plagiarism was no big deal during the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. People could borrow and use ideas without any form of acknowledgement. This was when literary figures such as Shakespeare and Dante influenced each other to create timeless classics.

It was only when publication arose during the 15th century that the concept of authorship and ownership began—copyrighting came about from the Licensing Act of 1662. Thanks to printing, ideas were turned into a tangible commodity. Consequently, this led to a new form of stealing (Granitz & Loewy, 2006).  Plagiarism checker is now more widespread than ever especially in academic institutions. It has become a major ethical issue because it involves stealing intellectual property (Girard, 2004), committing academic dishonesty, and damaging one’s identity and reputation (Valentine, 2006).

There are several ways to plagiarize, intentionally or not. First is by submitting someone else’s work with your name on it; second is by copy-pasting information from other sources without quotation marks and acknowledgement, third is by paraphrasing poorly, and lastly, by improperly citing references or not citing at all (Girard, 2004).

The Gravity of the Situation

Countless studies show that plagiarism has turned into an “epidemic” (Granitz & Loewy, 2007, p. 295). Back in 2001, USA Today reported a double increase in cheating between years 1995 and 1999. Surveys conducted during 2000/2001 show that even high school students plagiarize, and most turn to the internet for help (Granitz & Loewy, 2007).

At the Rutgers University in New Jersey, a study done last 2003 indicates that more than a third of college students simply cut and paste ideas from the internet. (Jones, 2006) In a more recent study conducted June 2005, the Center for Academic Integrity (CAI) found that, out of 50,000 college students, 70% of them were cheaters (Keen 2007). It seems like new technology has opened more opportunities for student dishonesty. To make things worse, 77% of college students do not think of this as a critical matter (Keen 2007).

Plagiarism is committed for various reasons and excuses. There is the argument that information is generally available to the public, making facts universal truths. This implies that information gathered is not owned by any particular author, therefore, canceling out the need for citing references. There is also the belief derived from the Middle Ages that mimesis or imitation is something natural to human kind. As mentioned earlier, there was no such thing as literary ownership, and that was how classic writers were able to influence each other.

Today, there are students who misuse this information and adopt the notion that the best way to circulate ideas is by copying or imitating (Hannabuss 2001). In other cases, students do not hesitate to copy-paste material from the internet because they know that their professors will not find out anyway; they take advantage of their teachers’ lack of knowledge when it comes to technology (Granitz & Loewy, 2007). Furthermore, other students insist that their papers are never thoroughly read by their professors, so they do not want to exert so much effort into something that their teachers would just simply skim through (Jones 2006).

Analyzing Ethics behind Plagiarism

In the Journal of Business Ethics, Volume 72, writers Neil Granitz and Dana Loewy published a study that applies ethical theories to the kinds of reasoning done by students when it comes to plagiarism. Starting with the least used theory, the rational self-interest or the social contract theory explains that people do trade deals with each other only to benefit the self.

Economically speaking, companies and its consumers both benefit since the former earns money while the latter earns satisfaction with the goods and services provided. Relating this to plagiarism, students believe that they do a “fair exchange” by saying that they are making an author’s ideas available for everyone to know, that getting a paper from a friend helped them learn, or that working hard for the paper is useless since their professors do not show so much effort in class. (Granitz & Loewy, 2007, p. 297)

The next theory is called utilitarianism, where the happiness of the greatest possible number of people is a crucial matter. For this one, 5.7% of students think that there is nothing wrong with plagiarizing when outcomes turn out well. They argue that they still learn anyway and that there is no harm done, especially when the teacher does not notice that their work is copied off from someone else’s. (Granitz & Loewy, 2007)

Then there is cultural relativism wherein an individual’s roots are used to justify his or her actions. The issue on ethics varies among the great variety of cultures in the world; what may be seen as unjust in one place may be the cultural norm in another. Students use this kind of reasoning to their advantage by saying that this plagiarism is done by everyone from where they come from. Some say that it is tolerated or that it was never taught to them in their respective countries. This theory regarding multiculturalism is used by 8.5% of students. (Granitz & Loewy, 2007)

Machiavellianism or ethical egoism ranks as the third most used theory, with 18.4% of students applying it to reason. This theory states that the individual cares only about him/herself, even if it means taking action at another person’s expense. Those who use this theory deny that they have done something wrong in spite of hardcore evidence. They usually blame other people for their mistakes. Students usually argue that it was the teacher’s fault for not telling them what exactly to do. On the other hand, if they do not get caught cheating, they take all the glory, and proudly boast how they got away with it (Granitz & Loewy, 2007).

Moving on to the second most used theory, 19.9% of plagiarists rely on situational or contingent ethics.  Situational or contingent ethics states that the actions of a certain individual are affected by his or her surroundings. Responses to certain situations depend on the conditions that an individual is under. Applying this to plagiarism, students who cheat reason out that everything got out of hand so it was their only way out. These students use excuses such as sickness in the family, emotional distress or social anxiety. They claim that they were not able to perform and think properly under those conditions (Granitz & Loewy, 2007).

Finally, 41.8% of students utilize the theory of deontology, making it the most used theory of ethics regarding plagiarism. This theory is all about moral obligations. To distinguish right from wrong, deontologists believe that it is their duty to help others without paying any attention to the consequences of their actions. When it comes to plagiarism, deontology says that it is wrong. Hence, students who act upon this theory and plagiarize are those who claim to have a lack of understanding or even a complete absence of awareness regarding the issue (Granitz & Loewy, 2007).

All these ethical theories concerning plagiarism may be divided into two categories, namely, intentional and unintentional plagiarism. Those who apply deontology and cultural relativism in their reasoning are those who (supposedly) plagiarize unintentionally. On the other hand, students show their intention in plagiarizing by using Machiavellianism, situational ethics, utilitarianism and rational self-interest (Granitz & Loewy, 2007).

Another author states that the act of plagiarism defies the American work ethic of working and getting respective rewards for it later on. People commit plagiarism because they want to “get out of work” or, to put it bluntly, because they are lazy. (Valentine, 2006, p. 96) Teachers are enraged by the deceit brought about by their students and also because they miss out an opportunity to learn, making their job practically useless. (Valentine, 2006) Plagiarism also causes trouble on the teachers’ part for they may be blamed for not properly educating their classes regarding the matter. (Hannabuss, 2001)

Still, a big number of students continue to pursue their lack of interest in school work and find different ways to get the job done without breaking a sweat. It seems that humans have maximized the power of modern technology because, aside from cutting and pasting materials from the internet, students can now order their papers online. They may simply type in the topics that they need and, with just a mouse click or two, find a ready-made term paper that they can immediately hand in to their teachers. There are certain websites like SchoolSucks.com and LazyStudents.com that offer such services (Jones, 2006).

Consequences to the Self

            Plagiarism is not only illegal for stealing copyrighted material but is also immoral (Keen 2007) because it harms other people and most importantly, it destroys the self. It is ideal for the act of citing sources to be a practice more than just being a general rule in writing. Practicing turns it into a habit, and later on makes it a part of an individual’s identity. Although plagiarism may be done unintentionally, teachers and administrators should not take it into account. (Valentine, 2006) After all, it is hard to tell whether deception is intended or not. (Hannabuss, 2001)

Once a student plagiarizes, it only means that he or she made one choice, and that is the unethical choice to go against the rules. Thus, plagiarized work only suggests that it is done by a dishonest student and nothing more. “This means that discussions about plagiarism with students need to start with discussions of what is at stake for their reputations—even if they have always been honest.” (Valentine, 2006, p. 105) It is important to be very careful in citing sources because a single mistake could affect even the most honest student (Valentine, 2006). It is bad enough that one does not learn anything by submitting other people’s works, but it gets worse when it is permanently marked on one’s transcript with everyone knowing all about it.

Looking for Solutions

            In order for some teachers to avoid plagiarists in their classes, they come up with new ways of testing their students in the classroom. Instead of assigning term papers, they make them perform oral exams or report by using visual aids; others ask their students to write within the classroom only. However, this poses another problem—since these exercises are much shorter compared to grueling term papers, students find it hard to incorporate depth in their work.

If ever teachers do require term papers, students must also submit essays and articles that they have used in their research and writing process. Even so, some schools continue to invest a big amount of money in plagiarism-detecting software. This, in turn, detects 30% of plagiarized work. (Jones, 2006) Apparently, although students are aware of all these preventive measures, they persist in doing the same mistake over and over again. (Jones, 2006)

Hopefully, schools and administrators find a sure way to completely stop plagiarism in schools and universities. It is a shame that plagiarists waste opportunities to learn and choose to learn the hard way. Once they get caught, their student records get stained forever, and there is no turning back. They fail to realize that not everyone has enough resources to go to school, that education is a privilege. Also, they seem to be unaware of the importance of taking their school lessons into heart and applying them later on in the real world.

Consequently, they stunt the growth of their personality and intellect, and squander their chances on getting thriving careers. This also applies to those who do not get caught—their laziness and lack of knowledge and practice will catch up on them later on. Success is something earned, and, in my honest opinion, those who plagiarize do not deserve it. If only it were possible to let everyone know what they are capable of so that they may push themselves to be the best that they can be. That way, the world may be a better place to live in, no matter how clichéd that may sound.


Granitz, N., Loewy, D. (2006). Applying ethical theories: Interpreting and responding to student plagiarism. Journal of Business Ethics, 72, 293-306.

Girard, N. J. (2004). Plagiarism: An ethical problem in the writing world. Association of Operating Room Nurses (AORN) Journal, 80, 13-15.

Hannabuss, S. (2001). Contested texts: Issues of plagiarism. Library Management, 22, 311-318.

Hosseini, K. (2003). The kite runner. United States of America: Riverhead Books.

Jones, T. Y. (2006). If this were a term paper, you might have seen it on the web (Home Edition). Los Angeles Times, A.1. Retrieved September 11, 2008 from ProQuest <http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1061776041&Fmt=3&clientId=11929&RQT=309&VName=PQD>

Keen, A. (2007). The Cult of the amateur: How today’s interest is killing our culture. United States of America: Doubleday.

Valentine, K. (2006). Plagiarism as literacy practice: Recognizing and rethinking ethical binaries. College Composition and Communication, 58, 89-108.

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