What if you are reading a book or article (secondary source) which cites another (original or primary) source – can you cite that original source without actually looking at it? For example, if an article by Jocelyn Brown includes a quote from a book by Christopher Green, is it okay to use that Christopher Green book quotation in your paper and only cite the Green book (using the citation information for the Green book included in the Jocelyn Brown article, without citing Jocelyn Brown)?
It is considered dishonest to cite a source without actually having read it – or at least having read the relevant parts of it. The source you have in your hand may not accurately represent or reproduce the text or even the ideas presented in the original. Shouldn't you judge for yourself, anyway? If you are not able to obtain a copy of the original (primary) text to look at, you can still refer to it. In the text of your paper, refer to the original work (in the example above, this would be Christopher Green's book), but include a citation for the secondary source (so your reader knows where/how you accessed the original work; in the example above, this would be Jocelyn Brown's article). Then, in your reference list, again include a citation for the secondary source (in the example, Jocelyn Brown's article, since, really, this is the only source you consulted). For an example of this, see the OWL at Purdue website (this site is also available on the “Get Help” tab in this Plagiarism Tutorial).