I am the original poster from this question on a new account. I tried registering the account, but for some reason it made me have a fresh account with no rep and did not acknowledge my original post, so I couldn't comment further.

Now, this is a question on the academia stack exchange, and I can absolutely understand if it is off-topic for this board. However, I just feel the commenters and answerers here being academics can provide a good appeal to authority for me (and seeking a professional is also something I am taking seriously about this as this is certainly something worth talking about). If it is thought this question should be posted somewhere else I'm perfectly happy to do so regardless.

The comments and answers in the thread have been very insightful and helpful for me, and have helped me get to the core of what was bothering me. People have been telling me that it's fine to forgive myself and move on with my life, but I've realized that this thought has been so gripping for me if I try and dig deep and understand the root of my worry: "You can forgive yourself, but it only matters if the institution that you've 'wronged' forgives you. That's the only forgiveness that can 'exonerate' you, because they're the institution that you have wronged in some way." In the same sense that if I've wronged someone in the past without them knowing that I have, it isn't good enough to forgive myself for it -- I need the person's forgiveness. Someone who has committed a crime but wasn't convicted for it can't simply forgive himself -- he needs to do his time! The previous sentence seems to encapsulate my psyche best -- particularly that last clause. To me, this is an almost objective idea (cautiously aware that 'objective ideas' are a fallacy in themselves) and blatantly true. I know my 'violation' (which many have said would simply be thrown out if I even mentioned it to the university) isn't comparable to a crime or anything, but it contains the core of my message.

So my question essentially is: do I even have the authority to pardon myself for not 'doing the time' for an academic wrongdoing, even if minor? Because a criminal surely doesn't have the authority to pardon himself for not 'doing time' for a crime he's committed. I anticipate that people will say I'm really reaching here and hyperbolizing. I am, but I do see a connection here that still sticks with me.

I understand this is probably a personal question, but I realize I may have a slightly warped or overly harsh moral compass. I anticipate some will say you can allow yourself to 'get away with it' for a violation this minor -- but doesn't this require some arbitrary line to be drawn? A declaration of 'this is not bad enough to feel one needs to punish himself if never punished'? One might get the sense that I wish to have a reason to feel like I don't need to report myself because it is objectively fine rather than I forgive myself and feel that it's fine because the latter still makes me feel like an unpunished wrongdoer. I hope this doesn't sound too much like I'm making the community my therapist, but the opinions of academia-minded people here are important to me. A therapist can help me get down to why I hold so much value in the idea that 'someone who has been unpunished needs to do his time' but this forum can serve as holding that idea's feet to the fire in academia.

The eponymous question remains: am I morally obliged, where are the lines drawn if the violation is minor and (to my example) nearly meaningless to pursue in practice, and how can one feel their academic integrity can remain in tact by giving oneself the authority to decide not to report themselves when surely it is incumbent upon the university to decide whether the violation is legimiate enough to be taken serious or not as the wronged party?

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    You seem to be asking a question about moral philosophy, not academia. Perhaps it would be better at: philosophy.stackexchange.com – Buffy Jun 27 '20 at 12:22
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    Why post again when you had a more than reasonable answer before? See academia.stackexchange.com/a/151008/72855 – Solar Mike Jun 27 '20 at 12:35
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    You are in a tight mental bind. If we tell you, yes you have the authority to forgive yourself (whatever that means), you will find some other reason to beat yourself up over your perceived misdeeds. We had a similar user recently who was obsessed with the concern that his former advisor might think badly of him, to the extent that he tried to move heaven and hell in his attempt to set a perceived misunderstanding right, all the while anyoning a great number of people. The only advice we could give was to let go and move on. Not an academic advice, but one based on empathy and common sense. .. – henning Jun 27 '20 at 18:42
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    ... And this is the only advice we can give you, too. Tragically, letting go seems to be exactly what is hard for you. And we can neither help you to understand the reason for this, nor can we teach you how to do it. Talk to a therapist or a religious councilor, if you are so inclined. Good luck! – henning Jun 27 '20 at 18:44
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    I'm interested in discussing/answering this question (although I completely agree it's off-topic and agree with the closure). Would a chat be a good place to do that? – Rayna Grayson Jun 27 '20 at 22:41

I have just read your original post and I believe that you are overthinking this a bit.

The reason why people should not look at others’ papers during exams is because they shouldn’t cheat. Cheating- answering a question with someone else’s knowledge (correctly or incorrectly)- is ethically unacceptable.

If you peered at another student’s paper absentmindedly- were you cheating? I think not. That can happen to anyone just looking around. If seeing another persons paper even if you did not look for the answers was completely unacceptable then we would have students take exams in isolation (which is a bit too much of a precaution don’t you think).

If you looked at someone else’s exam to see if you are behind- were you cheating? Again no, since looking at where they are in their exam did not put you in an advantage over others in the class that you did not deserve.

If you looked at another student’s paper because you were extremely overwhelmed and wanted to know the answer- were you cheating? Yes.

The next and final question is- did you see their answer and write it down without any guilt as if it is your own answer? Did you repeatedly exhibited this behavior in most or all subsequent exams? If answer to this is yes - I am surprised you were not caught and congratulate you- maybe you should consider being a spy- after reporting yourself to the university.

However, if you did not write the answer down, or even if you did and the next time you did not do it again and felt an overwhelming guilt as you do- I think you have not cheated or learned a lesson by yourself- in which case you do not have to report yourself.

Now relax and keep your eyes on your own paper from now on.


Do I even have the authority to pardon myself for not 'doing the time' for an academic wrongdoing, even if minor?

Yes you do: as an imperfect human being in an imperfect world, it is vital that you learn to accept your imperfections. It's likely that you will face harder challenges than that in your life, everybody does. It's even possible that other people' wellbeing will sometimes depend on your actions. If you can't forgive yourself, if you constantly question and blame yourself as a person, if you let your mistakes define you, there is a high risk that this will prevent you from being present to others and participate in meaningful ways to society.

Rules are meant to guide, not to define right from wrong in any kind of definitive way. Following the rules is good, but an occasional involuntary victimless slipup is nothing to obsess with.

how can one feel their academic integrity can remain in tact by giving oneself the authority to decide not to report themselves when surely it is incumbent upon the university to decide whether the violation is legimiate enough to be taken serious or not as the wronged party?

Academic integrity is not like a formal demonstration, a minor mistake doesn't invalidate the whole thing.

Academia (and life) requires people to have a moral compas and use it. But if all the academics had your pathologically exacerbated moral sense, everybody would resign and there would be no academia anymore.

  • +1 for 1st sentence. As an example, my friend A shared something with their partner B, that A's friend C had told A in confidence. A thought it would be ok with C, but it wasn't and C did not forgive A. A felt very guilty, but eventually forgave themself and learned from it. @impost, would you say A is morally obliged to never forgive themself and must forever consider themself a bad friend? Humans make wrong judgment calls sometimes (especially under pressure, like an exam). The important thing is how you respond to it, and you've already shown you understand that intention to cheat is wrong. – Rayna Grayson Jun 27 '20 at 16:42

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