Orin Kerr and Eugene Volokh point to a company named Professays that writes essays for college students but does an extraordinarily bad job of it. No surprise, since one wouldn't expect a company based on cheating to be made up of intellectual giants. One of Orin's commenters raised an interesting hypothetical:

I'd like to think that perhaps the essays are bad deliberately, as a form of for-your-own-good-we're-going-to-get-you-caught maneuver. (I'm not sure it's good to cheat those desperate enough to pay for a paper, but on the other hand, I'm pretty sure it's good to get cheaters caught, and some of the customers will be merely lazy or wicked, not desperate and honestly failing. In a much less significant way, I put this on the same moral level as taking money to commit a crime and then not doing it - not very immoral at all, but somewhat unsettling.)

As I consider this situation, I'm forced to conclude that it's not at all morally objectionable to use deceit in certain contexts as a weapon against bad guys. After all, is cheating a cheater different than an undercover cop who lies and infiltrates a gang of thieves, a spy who disguises himself and sneaks into an enemy country, or a general who feints with some troops while attacking elsewhere?

The only difference I can see is that Professays is intending to abet and profit from the dishonesty of others, whereas a cop, spy, or general is more nobly motivated -- assuming their larger goals of infiltration or military victory are justified, then so is the deception. But that's just it! In the same way that thieves are the enemies of cops, cheaters may be seen as the enemies of those who live honestly; therefore, honest people are justified in exposing thieves, even if it requires deception. That there's profit in the endeavor makes the exposer no different than the police officer who draws a salary for doing his job.

But what about the fact that Professays -- even if they are trying to expose cheaters, which I doubt -- may often end up merely helping the cheaters to cheat? In order for deception to be morally allowable, it seems to me that the truth must eventually come out in the sight of honest men. Cheating the cheaters is ok, but honest people must not be hurt in the process. Situations in which collateral damage to innocent bystanders is allowed (such as non-cheating students whose grades are ruined or non-combatant civilians who are killed or injured) should be treated as wars and lifted out of the realm of personal morality.



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