Be ye independent (i.e., joyful) thinkers

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Max Beatty and co. conversing in front of the Fishbowl, joyful that they can think. Image courtesy of ChatGPT. Photo by Henry Gramling.

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Dear Student,

Plagiarism is not principally an issue of stealing from others. It is rather a burglary of oneself. What one steals is one’s joy.

Remember the three classes of Plato’s “Republic?” Each has its own joy.

First, there’s the joy of creating (the Republic’s craftspeople), We all have tasted to some degree the satisfaction that comes from fashioning something, a satisfaction heightened by the awareness that it did not just turn out but turned out well: “This is delicious!” The worst fate that can befall a craftsperson is the loss of the opportunity to create.

Second, there’s the joy of recognition for accomplishment (the Republic’s soldier-guardians). We all have tasted to some degree that satisfaction that comes from being honored for excellence, a satisfaction heightened by the awareness of just how rare the excellence is: “We did it!” The worst thing that can happen to a soldier is not death but instead a dishonor- able discharge.

Third, there’s the joy of discovery (the Republic’s philosopher kings and queens). We all have tasted to some degree that satisfaction that comes from putting two and two together and thereby gaining insight into a truth for ourselves: “I got it!” The worst thing that can happen to a learner is to resign oneself to ignorance.

The academic paper is an opportunity to experience these three joys at once: the joy of creating, the joy of achievement and the joy of insight.

With plagiarism, there is no delight in creating. No delight in any sort of recognition. No joy in obstinate ignorance. Why would one squander joy?

Only if one succumbs to either (1) the inclination to ease or (2) the temptation to despair.

The proper virtues to counter both motives for plagiarizing are courage, toughness and a fighting spirit. I will create, I will achieve excellence, I will understand- I and none other in my place.

At the same time, there is needed humility. If I do not understand, I need to seek counsel, counsel with the aim of setting me free to think for myself rather than counsel with the aim of replacing my own independent thinking.

There’s also the virtue of authenticity. I would rather wear a C proudly that I earned than an A that is not in truth my own.

Courage, humility and authenticity are there to set us free to experience the joy of writing, the joy of achieving and the joy of understanding.

Sincerely,

Chad Engelland,

Ph.D. Philosophy

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