The Moral Delima

This is a discussion on The Moral Delima within the A Brief History of Cprogramming.com forums, part of the Community Boards category; > If you have no consistent ethical theory or moral compass or anything resembling a cogent argument to support your ...

  1. #31
    Mayor of Awesometown Govtcheez's Avatar
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    > If you have no consistent ethical theory or moral compass or anything resembling a cogent argument to support your position, then please don't act as if your position is defensible or even worth arguing over.

    Ah, I see. So you're not allowed to argue ethics unless you have read the wikipedia entry on it and can rattle off a couple of theories? That's a good argument.

    > not a pulpit from which to lecture

    Read your posts in here and tell me that.

    > no one pointed out the utilitarian point of view that no one is harmed by this activity.

    That's been pointed out quite a few times.

  2. #32
    S Sang-drax's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by joshdick
    no one is harmed by this activity.
    Is that true?

    If I recieve a fake degree from an university, no one (with a real degree) is directly harmed. But now I'm competing with them over the same jobs, so everyone with a real degree is harmed a little.

    It's like printing money. If I print one million for myself and use it, everyone with real money is harmed a little because their money will be worth less than they were before.
    Last edited by Sang-drax : Tomorrow at 02:21 AM. Reason: Time travelling

  3. #33
    Senior Member joshdick's Avatar
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    I'm not saying one need to subscribe to a certain theory or have formal training in ethics to form an ethical argument. What I'm saying is you have to form an ethical argument to form an ethical argument. Instead of constructing cogent arguments, it seems to me that most people in favor of cheating are content to state their opinion and then move on. That adds nothing to the conversation. Only through reasonable arguments in support of a position is anyone benefitted. I know you think otherwise, but I am sincere when I say that I think it is for the good of us all to have discussions on issues like this -- provided we appeal to reason.

    As for the utilitarian argument in favor of cheating, one could say that it was alluded to in a few of the early posts, but I don't think it's been adaquately voiced. I challenge you to show that assisting a student in cheating satisfies the Greatest Happiness Principle.

  4. #34
    Senior Member joshdick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sang-drax
    Is that true?
    No, but I thought I'd let them make their case before I rebut it

    Regardless, your argument is succintly put.

  5. #35
    Mayor of Awesometown Govtcheez's Avatar
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    > No, but I thought I'd let them make their case before I rebut it

    Oh you are so damn smart! Wow, I shudder at the very thought of debating you further!

    You are the first person to ever make my ignore list. Congratulations. If you actually listen to what other people are saying instead of just trampling them with "I am so smart and you are so dumb", you'll make it off. Have a good time.

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by joshdick
    The only thing I think I'm lecturing about here is being honest with oneself. If you have no consistent ethical theory or moral compass or anything resembling a cogent argument to support your position, then please don't act as if your position is defensible or even worth arguing over.
    My bad...I didn't realize I needed some formal training before expressing my viewpoints. My moral compass is my own conscience. While it doesn't seem right to do someone else's work for them, I have difficulty finding logical ideas explaining why it is wrong. Like I've said twice before, the accomplice idea may work, but then again it may not. I have no idea what a "first formulation of the Categorical Imperative of Deontology" may be (even though I could Google it if I really wanted to), but I do know that one cannot universalize this accomplice axiom either.

    How would you state it? "It is unethical to aid anyone, either directly or indirectly, in an unethical act." That also seems absurd, since we don't persecute gun manufacturers for making weapons that other people use for unethical acts. I think this particular issue is very much the same. The programmer is producing a product which the student can use as he/she wants.
    Quote Originally Posted by joshdick
    As for arguing my position, I was just looking for a stimulating exchange of ideas, not a pulpit from which to lecture.
    Remember saying this?
    Quote Originally Posted by joshdick
    The only thing I think I'm lecturing about here is being honest with oneself.

    edit: Man...I need to type faster.
    If I did your homework for you, then you might pass your class without learning how to write a program like this. Then you might graduate and get your degree without learning how to write a program like this. You might become a professional programmer without knowing how to write a program like this. Someday you might work on a project with me without knowing how to write a program like this. Then I would have to do you serious bodily harm. - Jack Klein

  7. #37
    Senior Member joshdick's Avatar
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    Oh you are so damn smart! Wow, I shudder at the very thought of debating you further!
    Whatever your reason, you're not debating me. And I contend it's because you cannot. Instead of attacking me personally, prove me wrong.

    Pianorain, I think you bring out an important distinction. I don't think it's unethical to sell a car or a hunting rifle just because it could be used to kill someone. What I do think is unethical is handing a loaded gun to a person who you know will use it to kill someone.

    Put differently, I think there's a significant difference when something has substantitive ethical uses, as a car or hunting rifle does, as opposed to something that has only an express unethical use, as a commissioned homework assignment does.

    Also, there is a difference when the facilitating agent has specific knowledge that their product will be used for unethical purposes. If one acts in good faith to provide a service without knowledge that it will be used unethically, then that person is not morally responsible. That is not the case here, however. The programmer was specifically told that his program would be turned in for homework. That makes his position far less defensible.

  8. #38
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    After doing a bit of research, I'll agree with you that viewing this issue from a deontological viewpoint leads to the conclusion that doing someone else’s homework is wrong. However, I disagree with the principle of deontology.

    Consider the age-old argument: Assume you and your family live on some island. Your family is not wealthy, but they make enough to survive. Tragically, one of your family members catches the terrible Zyrgonian Plague, a vicious and decidedly lethal disease. There is a tyrannical pharmacist on the island that holds a cure for the disease, but he is unwilling to give away or sell it. However, you have it within your power to steal some of the medicine away from the evil pharmacist. Is it ethical to steal the medicine?

    From the limited amount that I understand deontology, it would not be ethical according to your "first formulation of the Categorical Imperative of Deontology." There is no rule that can be universalized from that action. In fact, from this theory, it would seem that no form of rebellion or uprising against an unjust government would be ethical either. According to this theory, lying is unethical, even those "polite lies" that are sometimes necessary.

    Succinctly, I disagree with deontology because it attempts to crunch everything down to a simple boolean. I think it has its uses, but I also think that there are some gray areas where it fails to work.

    Getting back to programming, you're correct in saying that I really need to make more of a formal statement. I don't think it's unethical for a programmer to do a student's homework. The student will engage in unethical practices when turning in this homework, but ultimately the harm also falls on the student. Using a bit of common sense, it's unpractical to think that a student could go through their entire college education by buying homework from others. The student would eventually be tested and would fail due to not knowing the necessary material. Further, assuming that the student did manage to get a degree, the student would fail to operate as an employer would expect someone with a degree to operate. No part of this harms anyone except for the student.
    If I did your homework for you, then you might pass your class without learning how to write a program like this. Then you might graduate and get your degree without learning how to write a program like this. You might become a professional programmer without knowing how to write a program like this. Someday you might work on a project with me without knowing how to write a program like this. Then I would have to do you serious bodily harm. - Jack Klein

  9. #39
    Senior Member joshdick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pianorain
    Succinctly, I disagree with deontology because it attempts to crunch everything down to a simple boolean. I think it has its uses, but I also think that there are some gray areas where it fails to work.
    Yes, Deontology does not produce conventional responses in some situations, and this is a valid problem with using it all the time. Ethical theories aren't meant to be imperatives, however. They're just tools to guide one in their decision making.

    I look at it like this. They're useful as a group to examine a situation from multiple angles. They're also useful for constructing ethical arguments. Personally, if almost all of them say X is unethical, I take that as a good indication that X is most likely unethical. In the most controversial cases, however, one likely encounters disagreeing conclusions, and that's when a person must simply make a choice for oneself after weighing each prespective.

    The student will engage in unethical practices when turning in this homework, but ultimately the harm also falls on the student. Using a bit of common sense, it's unpractical to think that a student could go through their entire college education by buying homework from others. The student would eventually be tested and would fail due to not knowing the necessary material. Further, assuming that the student did manage to get a degree, the student would fail to operate as an employer would expect someone with a degree to operate. No part of this harms anyone except for the student.
    I think this doesn't take into account several prespectives. There is the potential for harm caused by an ill-trained programmer in the professional field. Although we'd like to think that such a person would never get a job, we must face the reality if not the strong possibility that that is not the case. And that reality, sadly, is frightening. Software errors have caused patients to be severely burned by radiation, missile defense systems to fail, allowing soldiers to die needlessly, and multi-million dollar spacecraft to fail spectacularly, costing all taxpayers.

    Also, as Sangdrax pointed out, when one student receives a degree dishonestly, the degrees of everyone else devalues, harming many.

    This leads me to a criticism of Utilitarianism: Performing the utilitarian calculus is subjective. Is the good caused by a few CS students not having to do an assignment greater or less than the bad done to all others with CS degrees? And how do you factor in the harm caused to the student's college?

    Another criticism of it is that it's difficult to calculate. How would you go about estimating the risk involved in letting an ignorant programmer out into the workforce?

    One last question for you: Is it ethical to participate in something that you know will harm the student?

  10. #40
    mov.w #$1337,D0 Jeremy G's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sang-drax
    Is that true?

    If I recieve a fake degree from an university, no one (with a real degree) is directly harmed. But now I'm competing with them over the same jobs, so everyone with a real degree is harmed a little.
    This was an interesting argument on the utilitarian aspect but I don't think it a correct one. The key part of the statment is that now the man with the <fake> degree is competing with people with real degrees. This falls back to a darwinian concept, if this man can win the contract through the interviewing process and have no formal education, then naturaly speeking he deserved it more then some one that had to be trained to do it.

    Even disregarding the natural innate ability to do it over a learned ability you still have the fact the man got the job.
    I mean, the degree qualification is generaly a weed tool for employers to weed out the untrained. However, even after that initial filter they then compare several applicants to each other and take the over-all best. The fact the man with a fake degree wins the job over the man with a real degree just goes to point out the (more)worthlessness of teh real mans degree.
    c++->visualc++->directx->opengl->c++;
    (it should be realized my posts are all in a light hearted manner. And should not be taken offense to.)

  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by joshdick
    I think this doesn't take into account several prespectives. There is the potential for harm caused by an ill-trained programmer in the professional field. Although we'd like to think that such a person would never get a job, we must face the reality if not the strong possibility that that is not the case.
    Unfortunately, I think this is one point that we'd be debating in a vacuum. I don't think that a cheating student would get and keep a job; you do. I don't think that a cheating student would get a diploma; you do.
    Quote Originally Posted by joshdick
    And that reality, sadly, is frightening. Software errors have caused patients to be severely burned by radiation, missile defense systems to fail, allowing soldiers to die needlessly, and multi-million dollar spacecraft to fail spectacularly, costing all taxpayers.
    Are these software errors caused by uneducated programmers or human programmers that make mistakes? I don't know. Both are capable of making the same mistakes.
    Quote Originally Posted by joshdick
    This leads me to a criticism of Utilitarianism: Performing the utilitarian calculus is subjective. Is the good caused by a few CS students not having to do an assignment greater or less than the bad done to all others with CS degrees? And how do you factor in the harm caused to the student's college?
    If it is a CS student that is cheating, then it is my opinion that the CS student will be found out at some point during the college education, such as an in-class exam or programming assignment. I don't believe that there is any harm to the college. The college gets your money either way.
    Quote Originally Posted by joshdick
    One last question for you: Is it ethical to participate in something that you know will harm the student?
    From deontological, utilitarian, and personal points of view, it isn't. According to deontology, that would be treating the student as a means (to satisfy greed or other ends) instead of as an end. This is the point I believed that you should have made when mentioning the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative of Deontology. According to utilitarianism, it would be ethical only if I gained more than the student lost. In general, I don't think that's possible. And from a personal point of view, I believe that when one of us is diminished, we are all diminished. I think that's the strongest argument against doing someone else's homework.
    If I did your homework for you, then you might pass your class without learning how to write a program like this. Then you might graduate and get your degree without learning how to write a program like this. You might become a professional programmer without knowing how to write a program like this. Someday you might work on a project with me without knowing how to write a program like this. Then I would have to do you serious bodily harm. - Jack Klein

  12. #42
    mov.w #$1337,D0 Jeremy G's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pianorain
    Unfortunately, I think this is one point that we'd be debating in a vacuum. I don't think that a cheating student would get and keep a job; you do. I don't think that a cheating student would get a diploma; you do.

    Just a tid bit here, college is certainly different from highschool however:
    In my highschool we had a validictorian (sp), smart girl did all homework on time, did excellenty on tests etc. Truely deserved the title. However, the second place validictorian (i forget the term) was a jackass. He turned in all homework, but he copied his from other peoples. He did well on tests, but cheated on a couple. The point is, that while the concept of eduction, and testing might be sound the execution is not always. Truthfully, I'm in community college right now and taking a java 3 class--another student has already recieved his AS emphasis on computer programming and I find his "skills" to be severly lacking. However, he has managed his way through the system thus far (first 2yr degree) and is well on his way to the second.
    c++->visualc++->directx->opengl->c++;
    (it should be realized my posts are all in a light hearted manner. And should not be taken offense to.)

  13. #43
    Bob Dole for '08 B0bDole's Avatar
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    We just went over some of those words used by joshdick in intro to philosophy, maybe he took that class. I hate that class btw, stupid gen eds.
    Hmm

  14. #44
    Senior Member joshdick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by B0bDole
    We just went over some of those words used by joshdick in intro to philosophy, maybe he took that class. I hate that class btw, stupid gen eds.
    I took Computer Ethics, a required philosophy course for all CS majors at Drexel University. I enjoyed the class, and I learned a lot. I think it's a great idea for college students to be taught professional ethics.

  15. #45
    Super Moderator VirtualAce's Avatar
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    I think it's worth noting that there is not a lack of good arguments supporting the claim that it's not unethical to take the job. I'm actually surprised that with all the people here, no one pointed out the utilitarian point of view that no one is harmed by this activity.
    And you wrote all that gobbly gook up there for what? We are programmers not philosophers and if you coded more than you defended the absurd , we'd all be better off.

    There isn't a moral dilemma here for me.
    Last edited by VirtualAce; 04-18-2005 at 06:33 PM.

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