Is ghostwriting service consistent with our ethical principles? Do those offering or using academic ghostwriting services act unethically? When it comes to these ostensibly simple questions, opinions tend to differ sharply. Particularly those who consider academic ghostwriting to be unlawful argue: Academic ghostwriting is unethical because it transgresses standards of common decency. Lest we draw hasty conclusions, we shall address this question on a systematic basis.
In the non-philosophical everday sense of the word, an action or service qualifies as unethical if it offends common decency. What is deemed to be running counter to standards of common decency and therefore unethical, ultimately, is the result of socially developed conventions and habits and thus dependent on cultural and historical factors. If one sticks to the definition of the German Federal Court of Justice, common decency lies in the prevailing social and judicial morality i.e. generally accepted norms and values in a society at a given point in time. According to our currrent notions of decency, a business transaction is inconsistent with common decency standards if it takes place on an involuntary basis, if it interferes with a person’s privacy, if it takes advantage of dependency relationships, or if it causes damage to another person
The majority of critics of academic ghostwriting contend that the unethicality of the service in question is evidenced by the conduct of each party involved in the business transaction. The client, they argue, acts in an unethical manner because he or she untruthfully claims to be author of the work created by the ghostwriter when submitting the text. By doing so, the client, according to those critics, is violating the prohibition to deceive as well as the rule of sincerity, respectively. The ghostwriting service provider meanwhile, they go on to say, act in contrast to public decency rules and thus unethically in that the provider contractually prepares or even promotes an unethical action by authorizing the client to make use of the commissioned textwork.
The critics‘ line of reasoning is predicated on two premises that are not necessarily valid. They presuppose, on the one hand, that the client’s aim is to use the ghostwriter’s text to submit it as his or her own work, and on the other hand, that the ghostwriter knowingly supports the client in this matter. However, neither the one nor the other action is necessary to occur.
As for the ghostwriter, it would be possible for him/her to indicate in the service agreement that the text in question is merely a template which must not be submitted with a university or higher-education institution as the client’s own work, especially since such an action is not only unethical (in terms of it being a lie) but also legally impermissible. By indicating that, the ghostwriting service provider expresses his or her disinterest in helping the client commit an unethical as well as prohibited action.
The client, on his/her part, could opt to act in accordance with the ghostwriter’s indication by using the ghostwriter’s template to create a new work on an independent basis; for using a text of another person for orientation and inspirational purposes is not only a perfectly legitimate action but also common practice when it comes to academic writing. To this effect, then, making use of a ghostwriter’s work does not qualify as an unethical action.
Whether or not academic ghostwriting qualifies as unethical is a question that cannot be given a generally positive or generally negative answer. It is crucial to consider each individual case. With respect to ethicality, what is important is each ghostwriter’s quality of advice on the one hand and the moral attitude of those making use of academic ghostwriting services on the other. It is true that both intentional assistance in and execution of an act of deception runs counter to our common rules of decency. It is equally true, however, that there is no logical coercion for such an action because there are possible legitimate alternatives at hand.
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