Research Ethics for Graduate Students

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Set 1: Question and Answers

Question 1: How might one justify flipping the switch in the Trolley case but not pushing the large man off the bridge in the variation?

Answer: Flipping the switch in the first case is justified because the switch operator is acting on the principle of Utilitarianism. By flipping the switch, the operator would save two people toed to the rail track and thus his actions would lead to Greatest Good for the Greatest Number (GHGN). However, in the second case where the switch-operator is faced with the situation of sacrificing the life of the fat man, then he may not be justified in doing so. This can be understood from Kant’s perspective where he believes that right thing to do is course that respects individual rights. Thus the means and the process are as important as the end. Aristotle’s principle of Virtue Ethics can be another explanation for not justifying the action of sacrificing life of the fat man. The action seems totally unjustified when seen from Virtuous Behaviour perspective.

Question 2: “Words of a language are not literally owned by anyone.” How might this bear on the question of the wrongness of plagiarism?

Answer: "Words of a language are not literally owned by anyone" would have a serious implication on the concept of plagiarism. If it is accepted that words are not literally owned by anyone then it would justify plagiarism and thus there would not be any wrong in plagiarising. However, words of a language used in academic writing matter a lot. Words when used to explain a specific concept or theory become the medium of the author to introduce his/ her ideas to the world. When used in this sense, they no longer are to be used freely by anyone as they become the copyright of the author who used them to explain his/ her concept. For example, When Einstein first introduced the general theory of Relativity and produced Relativity Equation, E=mc2, then the theory became so popular that words as "Relativity" became associated with Einstein forever. If anyone wants to improvise on the theory need to acknowledge the theory proposed by Einstein and any plagiarism would become intolerable in the academic and scientific domain. Thus words of a language used to define a theory or concept definitely become copyright of the person proposing the concept and it would be considered plagiarism if these words are used as it is without acknowledging the original scientist or author.
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