Applying Kant’s Imperative To An Academic Integrity Case


Kant’s ethics revolve around the concept of a categorical imperative, which is a fundamental ethical principle declaring that one must always recognize the humanity in others and only behave in line with principles that apply to everyone. Kant contended that the categorical imperative is a logical truth; hence, all intelligent creatures are governed by a shared moral code. Kant’s theory could be applied to the cases that might happen in reality. As such, it is used to address the issue of a college student who decides to submit the same assignment as their friend. Thus, this paper will consider the Golden Rule, universalizability principle, humanity principle, and alternatives in the situation to solve the case.

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule predates Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative, although they are comparable. Their commonality lies in the idea of shared humanity among humans. Yet, Kant regarded his Categorical Imperative as better than the Golden Rule in that it eliminates individuality and adds uniformity as a necessity of moral concerns. Whereas the Golden Rule clearly indicates an option to do good, it might also be understood to justify doing harmful or destructive actions. The Golden Rule may sometimes lose objectivity and impartiality. According to the Golden Rule, an individual needs to examine their preferences and needs to choose how they should behave toward other individuals.

The Golden Rule Application

The Golden Rule could be applied to the question of whether it is wrong for a college student to submit an essay from a classmate as his own. One might assume that since the student might decide that submitting the classmate’s essay is helpful for him, the classmate might want that as well, thus applying the Golden Rule. However, the Rule means that one should only treat others in ways that one would reasonably be pleased to be treated if they were in others’ shoes and were pertinently similar to others. Thus, it would be wrong for the student to act as he intends. This conclusion follows from the ethical concept of inversion of the Golden Rule. The inversion suggests that one should surrender one’s pleasure and one’s actual desires to promote the well-being of others. Hence, the inversion ethical concept brings more clarity to the Golden Rule.

The Universalizability Principle

The universalizability principle is one of Kant’s categorical imperatives. The principle states that one should act solely in line with that maxim by which one may simultaneously wish that it become a universal rule. This declaration implies that if one wants to accomplish something, everyone else should be able to do it. The necessity of fairness is highlighted through universalizability. Furthermore, the universalizability principle is a type of moral test that asks people to picture a world in which every recommended action is also taken by everyone else. Thus, according to this thesis, a morally acceptable action is one whose maxim is universally applicable.

The Universalizability Principle Application

The universalizability principle is somewhat ambiguous when used to determine whether it is wrong for a college student to plagiarize a classmate’s essay. The student in the case study seems to justify the act of plagiarism in the academic sphere and does not perceive it as an issue. Hence, by completing the universalizability test, the student may decide that he would not mind if everyone else plagiarized their assignments. However, the act is still wrongful in the view of the principle. Namely, plagiarizing actions undermine integrity, the ethical concept of being truthful, and holding firm moral convictions. The importance of integrity lies in the fact that one acquires the respect of leaders, coworkers, and team members when they act with integrity. Being trustworthy and accountable for their activities directly influences life outcomes. Since integrity is universally expected from people, while insincerity cannot be justified as behavior that everyone should be free to conduct, plagiarizing is not universally morally acceptable.

The Principle of Humanity

The principle of humanity includes an unequivocal prohibition on treating people as mere tools. According to this concept, one must never behave in such a way in which one perceives humankind, whether in oneself or other people, as a means to an aim but as an end in itself. Hence, when treating another person, one must presume that their ideas and wants are linked to one another and realities in some manner, and one must assign to them views one presumes one would have oneself.

The Principle of Humanity Application

Kant’s principle of humanity undoubtedly suggests that the college student’s attempt to plagiarize his classmate’s essay is a wrongdoing. Namely, the student uses his classmates’ writing skills, experience in the course, honest work, and sincere desire to help as a means to acquire a passing mark in the class. Hence, in accordance with the principle of humanity, this act could be considered an outward violation due to the student’s decision to treat another person as an end to his goal. The ethical premise of personal advocacy and basic human rights underpin the concept of consent as well, which was not given by the classmate. Thus, the college student manipulates his classmate to achieve progress in his academic life by utilizing their work without their consent and for a selfish purpose only, which is not morally justified.

The Permission Factor

Kant contended that any action performed against someone else who could not conceivably consent to it is a transgression of perfect duty under the second formulation. However, Immanuel Kant has claimed that one has a responsibility to aid others at least occasionally, but that this duty is flawed. Every person’s obligation is to be helpful, that is, to increase the happiness of people in need according to one’s means, without expecting anything in return. Thus, in Kant’s theory, informed consent entails getting honest permission while avoiding fraud and force, but it does not necessarily promote personal thinking and decision-making. Therefore, Kant approves consent as a factor that allows some acts that could be viewed as using others as means.

The Permission Factor in the Case

The alternative continuation of the case supposes that the college student requested permission from a classmate to plagiarize the essay, and they did not object. Per Golden Rule, permission could be viewed as the expression of the student’s classmate’s will. In other words, their consent suggests that they perceive providing their essay as something that they would like to be done to themselves. However, Kant’s categorical imperative still prevents one from justifying the action of plagiarizing. Since the student’s initiative is dishonest in terms of academic integrity, the permission of the classmate does not justify the act, which is universally flawed. According to the duty ethical concept, certain behaviors are morally acceptable and unacceptable regardless of the outcomes they cause. In this case, the duty of being honest is undermined. Moreover, in terms of the human principle, plagiarizing could be seen as a way to manipulate the student’s professor, treating them as a means.


The presentation has demonstrated the application of the Golden Rule as well as two principles of Kant’s categorical imperative to the case of the college student. It has been revealed that under both ethical approaches, the student’s actions are considered non-acceptable. However, the alternative ending of the situation with the classmate’s permission reverses the answer when applying the Golden Rule. Hence, it could be argued that there is a difference in the meaning of these ethical rules and decision-making options. Namely, the Golden Rule is more ambiguous than Kant’s categorical imperative, allowing individuals to interpret it freely and justify specific actions that would not be perceived similarly by Kant.


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