Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What is plagiarism and is it always bad?

Malcolm Gladwell argues that since we are all guilty of plagiarism none of us are guilty of plagiarism. Fallacious? You be the judge. Follow this link, then check out Professor Ira Singer's claim that there are fallacies in his arguments.

What is Plagiarism, and Is it Always Bad?

Professor Singer says:
Seems like a fallacy of division followed by a fallacy of composition.

Argument 1:

(1) To reproduce without attribution a substantial piece of writing produced by someone else is plagiarism.
(2) Substantial pieces of writing can be divided into individual words.
Therefore, to reproduce without attribution a word produced by someone else is plagiarism.

Argument 2:

(1) Almost all of the words anyone uses were produced by someone else (or anyway by a long slow cultural process, not by oneself), and people use almost all of these words without attribution. So people plagiarize almost all of the time in their use of individual words; yet people are held blameless for this.
(2) Substantial pieces of writing are composed of words.
(3) Since almost all of the words in each substantial piece of writing are plagiarized, each substantial piece of writing is also plagiarized.
(4) If each act of word-plagiarism is to be held blameless, the composite act of substantial-piece plagiarism is also to be held blameless.
Therefore what's the big deal about plagiarism?

I'll add my own argument, Argument 3: Mandate good, solid critical thinking courses at all levels of education before we are all lost, utterly lost!

Ira Singer, Chair, Department of Philosophy

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