Plagiarism & the Faithful Presence?

As I read Stanley Fish’s Plagiarism Is Not a Big Moral Deal (NY Times Opinionator, 8/9/2010), two responses immediately came to mind.  What do you think?

(1)  I disagree that every sin is learned.  My own experience and that of raising my kids (and my own responses to raising them), indicate that there is something not quite right inside which influences our behavior unless grace is given to go an “unnatural direction.”  Note:  the Biblical story provides helpful perspective on this frustrating condition.  Below’s a quote representing Fish’s position:

Whenever it comes up plagiarism is a hot button topic and essays about it  tend to be philosophically and morally inflated. But there are really only two points to make. (1) Plagiarism is a learned sin. (2) Plagiarism is not a philosophical issue.

Of course every sin is learned. Very young children do not distinguish between themselves and the world; they assume that everything belongs to them; only in time and through the conditioning of experience do they learn the distinction between mine and thine and so come to acquire the concept of stealing. The concept of plagiarism, however,  is learned in  more specialized contexts of practice entered into only by a  few; it’s hard to get from the notion that you shouldn’t appropriate your neighbor’s car to the notion that you should not repeat his words without citing him. — Stanley Fish. Plagiarism Is Not a Big Moral DealNY Times Opinionator. 8/9/2010.

(2) Not practicing plagiarism may be an one of the responses to How do we practice a faithful presence?

What are your thougths on plagiarism?

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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    Rachel commented on August 11, 2010 Reply

    Sarah Conrad Sours offers an excellent response to Fish at her blog:

    “Respect, truth-telling, courtesy, diligence–these are all morally weighty terms. If Fish is right that originality is not a terribly interesting or valuable thing, he misses that it is the least of the things proper citation is designed to cultivate.”

  • Thomas B. Grosh IV commented on August 12, 2010 Reply

    Thank-you Rachel!

  • W. Brian Lane commented on August 12, 2010 Reply

    Is it possible to believe that plagiarism should have serious repercussions AND to feel uncomfortable addressing it (because the repercussions are serious)?

  • Thomas B. Grosh IV commented on August 12, 2010 Reply

    Good point Brian. The below musings are not well thought out, would love more feedback from you and others …

    Sin is such that at times we feel uncomfortable addressing what is “off target” and “falls short of God’s desires” both within ourselves and among others for a variety of reasons. Note: I confess at times desiring “to get back at others by pointing out specks of sin instead the sinful log of my vengence/accusatory action.” The Spirit and friends have reminded me of this concern a number of times … To God be the glory!

    The repercussions of plagiarism probably vary significantly based on the sphere in which it occurs, e.g., undergraduate paper, graduate paper, published paper/book/research, public presentation of a paper/talk with the one whom as been plagiarized in the room …

    It would seem that a private conversation would be a good place to begin with papers/research for a class or drafts of papers/research/books. But what about when the material is ‘in print’ or ‘in public’ and has been ‘given credit?’

    If the implications are severe, how do the repentant, particularly those who are young and/or in vocational transitions take next steps in the educational community without feel like they need to continually cover the past (which doesn’t work well in our high communication age)? How does one address situations like Fish came across where the ‘sin’ can be passed around (possible shared) by a shared learning community?

    But what type of shared learning communities are we seeking to cultivate and toward what end? How do we keep it located and moving in the proper direction?

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