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Normative Revisionism about Student Cheating


This paper considers characteristic views advanced in the past fifteen years that may be considered relatively sympathetic to student practices of cheating on graded assignments or exams. We detect and analyze typical fallacies that are recurrent in articles that promote a revisionist view of cheating as morally permissible. We offer a general, deontological argument that cheating is immoral. The efforts to justify student cheating take several forms. For example, it has been argued that cheating may be tolerated if the student did not intend to cheat, perhaps because of a failure to understand the normal rules or expected procedures. We also argue that student collaboration in graded work constitutes cheating even if the instructor condones such collaboration. In a similar vein, we address the view that student copying is cheating even if the instructor alters the rules to allow such copying. This moral view can be applied to any cheating behavior, we argue. As a specific example, we demonstrate how it can be applied to the pedagogical recommendation that instructors should encourage their students to cheat in order to cultivate student skills in the area of cyber security. We also address the view that student cheating can be justified by situations in which the student believes that he/she is being subjected to an unfair or unethical overall learning environment.

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  1. Nevertheless, there are exceptions. See, for instance, Harp and Taietz (1966), Bishop (1993), Green (2004), Grisez (2004), Pecorino (2017) and Mintz (2018).

  2. See also, Wittgenstein, (1999, pp. 48e, 49): words are like money, not like what can be bought with money; and for the broader point that semantics is not underpinned by metaphysics.

  3. It is noted that Conti and Caroland (2011) may claim that they were not condoning cheating and students were told that they would fail the exam if they were caught cheating. However, the title of their article includes the phrase: “Why you should teach your students to cheat” and the article, in effect, celebrates what the authors view as the innovative and creative cheating strategies that their students adopted. Moreover, students were explicitly told by the instructor that he “did (Conti and Caroland 2011, p. 48) expect them to cheat” and students were told that the student who demonstrated the most “creative and effective” (Conti and Caroland 2011, p. 48) approach to cheating would be awarded a prize.

  4. The logical pathologies associated with vagueness are serious: for instance, the legal doctrine of “void for vagueness” aims to remedy for logical problems associated with vagueness.


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Correspondence to Fred Englander.

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Makridis, O., Englander, F. Normative Revisionism about Student Cheating. J Acad Ethics 19, 1–23 (2021).

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  • Cheating
  • Deontology
  • Student collaboration
  • Intentionality
  • Flipped exam