Archive for the ‘Literary theory’ Category

Why anti-plagiarism is unethical

January 17, 2009

Plagiarism is the use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.

I will break this statement down into two parts for ease of analysis:

Plagiarism is the use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author…

I use and imitate the language and thoughts of others all that time, mostly unconsciously. What I see, hear and read in others influences me; it cannot be helped otherwise. So is it with you. While your thought may not reflect identically the thought of another individual, it must reflect the influence of many individuals.

Do you disagree? If so, where does your language and thought come from, if it is not influenced by others? You must posit God or some mystical, independent essence inside of yourself as the origin than?

But what of blatant, conscious imitation? I see nothing wrong with it inherently, the ethical question is, why would you do such a thing?

…and the representation of them as one’s own original work.

There is an assumption that one has an ‘essence’ to which originality can be attributed, a ‘free will’. I can find no such essence. It is false to represent any intellectual work, with or without the standard attribution, as solely one’s own.

Anti-plagiarism is unethical in academic circles because the academy is predicated on a system of honour. Plagiarism robs one of the honour to which one mistakenly thinks is his due. Compare this relation of worker to production in Academia to that in other parts of industry. When I buy a car I don’t honour the worker in the factory involved in its production, nor the designers of machines used on the assembly line. I recognise that the product was produced by a large complex of people and social relations, thus is it with the intellectual work of academics.

Returning to the real ethical question surrounding plagiarism: it is unethical to plagiarise if and only if one does it in existential bad faith. If you are not true to yourself in that you plagiarise because you want to obtain the approval or honour of others than you are unethical. If however, you use and imitate the language and thoughts of another because it is serving some existential need of your’s than there is no problem. If the latter is the case than there is no reason why you would have a problem with recognising the influence of others; plagiarism is only an ethical concern when honour is at stake, your’s and that of others.

The academy is not concerned with bad faith, only honour. Anti-plagiarism is but one means of maintaining its system of honour. The academy, like the church, is a social club for the mutual self-aggrandisement of its members. Its conduct forsakes the more noble pursuit of imparting knowledge that serves the existential needs of individuals.

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