In case you haven't noticed, dear reader, we are on vacation.  While we are gone, please munch on the following tidbit of wisdom pulled off the Huffington Post:

When I think back on these things, I cringe. Not only did I not become the next Socrates, a paradoxical thing happened — the longer I stayed in teaching, the more I realized how much I didn't know.

Happy New Year. 

What’s next?

A few years back, Violet Palmer refereed an NBA playoff game, and there were bubbling discussions of women refereeing in the NCAA men's tournament. Candace Parker won a dunk contest.  She also dunked two times on Army.  Sports writers felt they needed to say something about these things.  Being sports writers, they said stupid things.  Here's Stephen Moore, President of the Club for Growth, writing in National Review:

This year they allowed a woman ref a men's NCAA game. Liberals celebrate this breakthrough as a triumph for gender equity. The NCAA has been touting this as example of how progressive they are. I see it as an obscenity. Is there no area in life where men can take vacation from women? What's next? Women invited to bachelor parties? Women in combat? (Oh yeah, they've done that already.)

Ah, yes. "What's next?"  It is the universal signal for: here comes a blatant slippery slope argument.    Oh, and women already come to bachelor parties. I don't know what kind of bachelor parties Moore goes to, but they don't sound any fun.  The fact that women are in combat has less to do with progressive agendas and more to do with the fact that war is unpredictable.  If you read the whole article, it gets weird.  Moore keeps coming back to what a babe Bonnie Bernstein is and how she needs to do interviews in halter tops.  Stephen Moore, that's creepy, dude. You need a good editor and a cold shower.  So, what's next? Stephen Moore makes proclamations that are sexist, stalker-creepy, and ignorant of the facts?  He also brings his prodigous critical skills to bear on financial policy at NRO (bonus points for spotting the line-drawing form of false dilemmas in that one).  

In similar fashion, ESPN's Jason Whitlock writes about Candace Parker's dunking, and sees the distinction between the men's and women's games fading.  Now, … wait for it … here … it … comes:

What's next? First women's hooper to cover her entire body in prison tattoos? WNBA players investigated for running up huge tabs in the champagne room of the Gold Club? Sue Bird strangles her coach at practice? Lisa Leslie attacks beer-tossing empty seat, sparks nasty melee between players and bored arena ushers?

Ach!  What's next?  What's next!  No, that's not what's next.  Now, Whitlock has a point in the article, namely, that celebrating Parker's weak dunking, we're actually patronizing her game and belittling women's basketball.  That's a good point, but he doesn't need to make it with this sort of slippery slope argument.  In fact, in doing that, he's done the same thing. 

The new morality

Here's Robert Samuelson on the idea of public benefits:

People who wonder what America's budget problem is ultimately about should look to Europe. In the streets of Dublin, Athens and London, angry citizens are protesting government plans to cut programs and raise taxes. The social contract is being broken. People are furious; they feel betrayed.

Modern democracies have created a new morality. Government benefits, once conferred, cannot be revoked. People expect them and consider them property rights. Just as government cannot randomly confiscate property, it cannot withdraw benefits without violating a moral code. The old-fashioned idea that government policies should serve the "national interest" has given way to inertia and squatters' rights.

To be precise, that wouldn't be a "new morality," that would be a new moral obligation (or duty) under the existing morality (or moralities).  But it really isn't that anyway, as those obligations form part of the social contract–people pay taxes, make laws, establish government programs, etc., and expect (rightly, under the old morality) their needs to be met accordingly.  When abrupt changes to this contract are made, people will expect some kind of justification.  No sane person could call these things a new morality.

By the way, we should also remind ourselves that people violating the principles of the old morality helped bring about economic catastrophe.   

But while we are talking about morality, and fiscal responsibility, let's go back to Robert Samuelson, in 2003:

A possible war with Iraq raises many unknowns, but "can we afford it?" is not one of them. People inevitably ask that question, forgetting that the United States has become so wealthy it can wage war almost with pocket change. A war with Iraq would probably cost less than 1 percent of national income (gross domestic product). Americans have grown accustomed to fighting with little economic upset and sacrifice.

Just to be clear.  He didn't go on to critique that morality–about the economic upset and sacrifice.  How much has that war cost us now?

Arguments from Fidelity

Previously on the NonSequitur, I'd reconstructed the core arguments of Steve Gimbel's innovative and rhetorically powerful "Open Letter to Students."  Overall, there are three arguments not to plagiarize: (1) the moral argument: it's theft, it's lying; (2) the practical argument: it's a bad gamble; and (3) the argument from fidelity: in plagiarizing, the student breaks a bond of trust with the teacher (and one the teacher has upheld).

The trouble is that arguments from fidelity are considered fallacy forms.  They may either be a sub-class of arguments from pity or at least they are considered in the same family as arguments from pity and the other emotive-expressive argument forms that generally fail relevance tests.  (E.g., arguments from outrage, wishful thinking, arguments from envy, etc.)  Additionally, arguments from fidelity also work on a person's self-identification as a member of some group or other, and so they rely on the similar forms of reasoning as ad populum arguments.  The rough class of affections these arguments key on are: the desire to belong, the desire to see oneself as loyal and constant, the desire to be proud of one's ties.  Some examples:

A1: You're a Titans fan. How could  you criticize Jeff Fisher like that?

A2: Your job in this organization is to off the snitches, so you owe it to us to nail anyone who's squealing.

The trouble with both A1 and A2 are that the fidelity the person addressed by them has to these organizations underdetermines what that person's supposed to do.  With A1, anyone familiar with the NFL knows that being a fan of a team means that you find yourself having more critical things to say about your own coach than you do about other teams' coaches.  A2 works on loyalty a little differently, as here deviating would be breaking the bond with the organization.  But that is the right thing to do (the problem, of course is that someone will fill your position and likely come to murder you, but that's a different issue).  The point is that A1 and A2 show two different ways that arguments from loyalty can fail. Here's a basic schema for the arguments:

P1: You are a member of X

P2: If you are a member of X, you have an obligation do A (as an expression of your loyal membership in X)

Therefore, you should do A

The problem with A1 is that P2 is false in its case.  The problem with A2 is that even though P2 is true, the obligation to A does not trump the moral reasons not to A (in this case, A=murder).  So the conclusion does not follow. 

Back to Gimbel's argument.  Here's the reconstruction:

P1: You (student) are a member of this student-teacher relationship.

P2: If you are a (student) member of this relationship, you have an obligation to turn in non-plagiarized work. (or: refrain from plagiarizing…)

C; Therefore, you should not plagiarize. Plagairizing is a failure of loyalty to this relationship.

Two ways arguments from fidelity can fail are, I think, in A1 and A2 fashion.  I think Steve's argument passes these tests.  It passes the A1 test, because P2 is true in Steve's case.  Syllabi, honor codes, and things like that make it so it's clear what a student's role is.  It passes the A2 test, because there are no moral reasons that trump the transmission of obligations of group membership to what one ought to do.  In fact, because of the moral argument against plagiarizing, the support for the conclusion is strengthened, not weakened (as with A2).

Arguments from loyalty place a prima facie obligation on others, and we can recognize those obligations in the shame we'd feel were we not to live up to those obligations.  That's what make these emotional arguments.  But their emotionality need not make them fallacious.  They are fallacies when they either proceed from false presumptions about what one's obligations are as a loyal X or from the thougth that even if one has prima facie obligations to X to do A, they are always ultima facie oblligations to do A.  In Gimbel's case, he's made neither error.  His case, then, aggregative.  The moral, practical, and fiduciary arguments converge on the same conclusion. 

No plagiarism, please. We’re all friends here.

Steve Gimbel of Philosopher's Playground fame, in my opinion one of the most entertaining and canny philosophy blogs around, has posted his semi-annual appeal to students not  to plagiarize their final papers.  It's a different argument from your usual plagiarism is theft arguments or the plagiarism cheats you out of thinking things through yourself move. 

Steve's argument has multiple lines; the opening moves are pretty nice.  First, he notes that most students "just aren't that good at it."  Basically, the odds are that you'll get caught.  Plagiarizing isn't a good gamble.  Second, even if you don't get caught, "it won't end up making that much of a difference in the end."  Students already have done a lot of work over the semester, and even if the paper is good or bad, it will likely make only a small difference in one grade, in one semester. 

[I]n truth your college GPA means very little in the lives of most people. But getting busted for plagiarism could mean a lot. . . There is so little reward that it is absolutely not worth the risk.

These two arguments seem right to me: not only is plagiarism morally wrong and counter to the purposes of going to college in the first place (acknowledged by Steve, but not the focus), but it's actually a risky proposition.  But Steve has, I think, a much more rhetorically powerful argument, and one that is an occasion for some thought about arguments from pity and loyalty.

Steve's third argument has two parts.  The first is that professors, for the most part, like most students.  Bad work on one paper isn't going to hurt that:

We like you (well, most of you anyway). We want you to succeed. We want you to keep in touch by e-mail and come back to campus ten years from now for alumni weekend and tell us funny stories about your time in college and about how you got to be wherever it is you will end up. And you know what, we won't care or remember that paper. To be honest, we will have forgotten about it long before next semester.

Students and teachers have a relationship, and we teachers are not going to renege on that relationship just because you students wrote a bad paper.  We understand that bad work happens sometimes, especially when time's tight.  And now comes the second part:

But when you plagiarize, you put us in a horrible position. We don't want to turn you in, in part because we want the best for you, but also because we don't want to have to deal with the process. We are tired too. It's been a really long semester and we just want to get our grades in so we can get to the plans we've made for break. And now you make us have to spend our time searching for your sources, documenting evidence, and explaining how we knew this had to be plagiarized. We have so much to do right now that we don't need the headache.

But it's more than just that this is a hassle.  Remember: we're in a relationship, and plagiarism breaks the trust that the relationship requires. 

But more than that, it feels like betrayal…. I looked forward to giving you a good grade and seeing you around the campus and now you go and do this to me? ME: the one who spent the time preparing for class, answering your e-mails at awkward hours, giving you extensions and offering to look at drafts.

Plagiarism is disloyalty.  Not just to yourself, the scholars you steal from, or the discipline, but to your teachers, the people who've loyally worked for your (the student's) benefit all semester.

I'll have a follow-up post later to discuss forms of arguments from pity and loyalty.  Steve's argument here seems to be a case where the pity and loyalty that students (should) feel for their teachers is relevant to the conclusion that they shouldn't plagiarize.  The problem is that these are classically considered fallacy forms.  So the question is: under what conditions are the sentiments of pity and loyalty relevant? 

The old hometown looks the same

A few years ago some fellow Kalamazooans created the  "Kalamazoo Promise,"  a privately-funded program that guarantees four years of in-state public university tuition for anyone who graduates from a Kalamazoo public school with at least four years of continuous enrollment.  It's a little more complicated than that, but you can read the details here

Sounds like a grand idea, if you live in The Kalamazoo Public School District.  Not so much, perhaps, if you live nearby and need to sell your house in a down housing market.  It might also not be such a good idea if you have to go to school in a neighboring school district.  The tax drain might put the squeeze to the school funding. 

But that's speculation.  As luck would have it, Conor Williams, the winner of the Washington Post's "So you think you can pundit" contest (seriously there is one), is from Kalamazoo as well.  Luck would also have it that he devotes his first (I think) column to the Kalamazoo Promise.  Down several paragraphs he writes:

This is also a perfect way to cut across ideological lines in the education reform wars. Small-government advocates get a chance to prove – as they often claim – that private philanthropy can address social injustices more effectively than public initiatives can. After all, what better way to shrink the size of government by proving its programs unnecessary? Meanwhile, progressives can applaud the emphasis on equal opportunity and the constructive approach to improving student performance without demonizing teachers or administrators.

I think, however, small government advocates cannot make this argument.  The Kazoo (that's what we call it) Promise has it that kids who go to public schools (not private ones) get a scholarship to a public university (in Michigan).  What they have done, in other words, is tax themselves, and earmark the money for public college education.  It grows, or perhaps prevents from shrinking, the schools in the Kalamazoo Public System, and it grows, or again prevents from shrinking, the state university system.  Government involvement in education, in other words, remains the same or bigger. 

What also remains in place–and perhaps needs some tweaking–is the way we fund public education–property taxes.  The people who move or remain in the KPS for this reason still pay those.  Only now they're getting an added public benefit, on account of the very laudable supererogatory self-taxation of a few (likely very rich) people.