Ethics and Undergraduate Studies

Our undergraduate academic journey is guided by a series of concise assignments, each acting as a crucible in which the student's cognitive and theoretical abilities are refined
Ethics and Undergraduate Studies

BY MOHAMMAD ASIF

What is it like to have an ethical experience? That was the question that French Philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas sought to answer during the 20th century. In his view, ethical experience is the experience of a responsibility to act in a certain manner when you come into contact with other people.

In that case, we would need to maintain the sensitivities of knowability given the fact that other human beings already comprise part of the world we live in. It is therefore applicable to make a general discussion of the concept ethics here.

The term "ethics" encompasses the philosophical examination of the concepts of moral rightness and wrongness, as well as moral goodness and badness. It can also pertain to any philosophical framework that delineates what is morally right or wrong, or morally good or bad. It surrounds any established system or code of moral principles, rules, and/ or values. In our society and/ or academic institutions, research scholars are required to be well familiarised with philosophical concepts of ethics to pursue their academic pursuits on empirical grounds. But the question arises what does these concepts means to an undergraduate student?

Our undergraduate academic journey is guided by a series of concise assignments, each acting as a crucible in which the student's cognitive and theoretical abilities are refined. The academic vignettes presented in this context may appear to be of limited scope, but they effectively initiate a lasting pedagogical introduction, culminating in a harmonious progression of intellectual growth. As a diligent student diligently works to decipher the underlying theme, they are subtly urged to navigate the complex pathways of epistemological ambiguity. In this ambitious endeavour, the student is not simply an individual explorer but also a vital element of a complex network, continuously integrating their cognitive processes with the knowledge acquired from eco-systems. In all such examples, ethics may become a roadmap or guide to navigate in this eco-system with a proper value system.

Since Auguste Comte came up with the idea of sociology (positivism), study in the social sciences, the question of objectivity caught scholars' attention.  The concern was that is it possible for researcher to be value free or unbiased or un-prejudiced while conducting the social science research, which was quite unlike the research of natural sciences where subject, and object of research are separate entities; objectivity has direct co-relation with social sciences or sociology’s status of science- episteme of Knowledge.

Straightforwardly, objectivity means researchers are advised to be unbiased and open to criticism. This involves impartial verification of data and facts and forming conclusions entirely based on factual information, without subjective assessment or predetermined prejudices- given that cultural values vary from culture to culture and are likely to obscure the self-understanding of society i.e., sociology. But objectivity in undergraduate studies means that we should make us familiar with the language proper to guide us to reach the right person with an appropriate learning attitude.

This became the primary concern of research ethics which guided social research to objectivity and hence, to knowledge production understood as the philosophical study of moral concepts. Ethics is an important consideration in sociology and social science studies. Scientific investigations must be guided by what is right and what is wrong. This is when Ethics fall in place. This is how it is ensured that science is done safely, and that scientific knowledge is reliable, the value neutral and objective.

In our society (academia) we are supposed to deal with ethics of everyday life, part of ethics that is to cultivate a learning attitude and staying in the proper approach concerned to that end.  In everyday student life it means developing learning attitudes by being open to other’s perspectives thereby widening the cognitive horizons as a whole. It helps us to add to our understanding of the things.

Instances abound where students approach their peers, mentors, or colleagues for assistance which is a norm of every eco-system. Visualize a student who, upon receiving comprehensive feedback from a peer, takes the time to offer genuine thanks and perhaps reciprocates the favour in future. This virtuous cycle of gratitude and support exemplifies ethical behaviour in academia.

As the 20th century existentialist philosopher, Albert Camus said “ a man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world”,  which  would simple mean that absence of ethical principles would result in humans behaving akin to untamed creatures, thereby inflicting harm and causing destruction upon themselves and other.

Conversely, envision a scenario where a student merely benefits from another's guidance without abiding by the ethical rules. In a scenario where an individual seeks assistance via email, it is observed that upon sending the email to the designated recipient, there is a lack of prompt acknowledgement, leaving the sender with a sense that their email has disappeared into the oblivion.

Over a course of time, the consistent disregard for ethical principles can gradually undermine the fundamental basis of moral behaviour, thereby creating a setting in which the principles of reciprocity and mutual respect will diminish.

As an integral component of a Ph.D. programme, research scholars are expected to provide support to the department in various tasks, which may encompass teaching responsibilities. In contrast to the previous semester, I have been assigned the responsibility of instructing two courses this semester.

One course is specific to students within my department, while the other is a general elective that encompasses students from various disciplines. Upon my initial entrance into the classroom as an instructor, I greeted the students with an honest smile.

This act prompted me to reflect upon my own undergraduate experiences and contemplate the role of a teacher in facilitating the introductory process. I envisioned myself as an undergraduate student and contemplated the inquiries I would have posed to the instructor I encountered for the first time.

I envisioned myself inquiring about my teacher's area of study as a Ph.D. candidate and expressing curiosity about their intellectual perspective beyond the scope of the concerned. I would have considered myself passionate about ethical principles if I had had that attitude as an undergraduate. 

Take away, the commitment to cultivating a learning attitude and adhering to ethical approaches in academia extends beyond the surface of simple courtesy. It is a fundamental cornerstone upon which a vibrant intellectual community thrives. Whether through embracing diverse perspectives, expressing gratitude for assistance, or fostering an atmosphere of reciprocity; these actions collectively contribute to the tapestry of ethical behaviour that defines or will define our academic society.

Mohammad Asif is a doctoral candidate at the Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at: asifyousuf133@gmail.com

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