Tuesday, March 28, 2006

An Ethical Quandry

This is from real life, second hand.

You're taking an "ethics exam".
You know the "right answer" to one of the questions, namely the answer the instructor expects to be given as the correct answer. But, you disagree with the answer as being subtly flawed, and think the correct answer is slightly different.
You are fairly sure the instructor will downgrade your answer if it deviates from the "right" model answer.

Which is the more ethical thing to do: give the answe expected, or the answer you think is correct?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isn't an ethical issue. You're being examined for a purpose, and the purpose is to test your ability to generate the "correct" answer, where "correct" is some aggregate of characteristics defined by whoever designs the test and/or assesses the answers you provide.

Now, if you can somehow talk whoever will be doing the assessment into agreeing that your "better" answer really is better (and into giving you credit for it also, because you can't assume that being right scores you any points -- just look at what happened to the guys who designed the Improbability Drive), that's wonderful, but it still misses the point. "Correct" depends on who's making up the rules and doing the grading at least as much as actual correctness/logical consistency/etc. Tests measure the ability to fit in enough to communicate with others as much as they measure getting the right answer to question 2, section b, part 5f...

2:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous above.

The "ethics exam" is not a test of your ethics. It's a test of your knowledge of the material from the ethics class, as presented by the instructor. It's also a test of your ability to apply that knowledge within the confines of the test.

When I was a TA for an intro astronomy course, there was a question on the Big Bang. One student wrote down exactly what had been presented in class and in the text. He went on to say that he didn't personally belive it and that he was disappointed alternate explanations were not presented.* He received full credit, and I'm sure he felt that he had answered ethically.

*Actually, the Steady State Theory was presented... and dismissed. This was also before ID became popular.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Steinn said...

Well, it is not quite that simple.
If it is a matter of an instructor presenting received material from a preferred perspective, then it is that simple. As is the case when instructing minors or when presenting an ethical system.

But, there are two more complicated situations: one in which the "class" is effectively a graduate seminar on "what is ethics", and without becoming a total relativist, the instructor did not have a preferred perspective on the issue; in some real sense all perspectives what was right in the situation were equally valid; secondly, this was a case of "professional ethics", and again was supposedly a matter for debate what the ethical code for the profession ought to be.

A further complication is that the exam was intended not so much as a test of knowledge of a presented ethical code, as a exam of ethics of the person taking it - in which case there is a definite ambiguity as to whether giving the honest answer disliked by the instructor is more intrinsically ethical than giving the "official answer" determined in class.

ie is it ethical to lie about your personal perspective on an exam of ethics in order to present an appearance of ethicality in some class defined scheme?

Of course the real conclusion is that the instructor was not acting appropriately and presented a poorly designed examination of the material.

10:18 PM  

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