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Prior Knowledge

Monday, October 31, 2005

Philosophers' Carnival XXI

Welcome to the 21st Philosophers' Carnival! For those who have just tuned in, the carnival aims to showcase some of the top philosophy posts of the last three weeks from around the blogosphere. There were a lot of entries this time around, so I've broken them up into categories...

Religion and Naturalism

Mathetes brings a refreshingly practical slant to abstract questions of God and Time:
This paper sets out to prove that the man on the street, who has no other source of hope for a better future but God, should hold on to his hope if God is atemporal, but should put his hope elsewhere if God is not.
He makes some questionable assumptions along the way, but it should make for some interesting discussion in the comments section.

Kenny Pearce, in Leibniz on "Efficient" vs. "Final" Causes in Physics, lucidly explains how this Aristotelian distinction can be used to differentiate between the "mundane" and the "miraculous" without asserting that there are exceptions to the laws of nature.

Meanwhile, Warren Platts speculates about Finalism in a Darwinian World. He argues that if advanced civilizations could trigger their own 'big bang' to create a whole new universe, then this could enable the evolution of, well, evolution itself:
[I]f entire universes are units of selection, and if universes that generate intelligent life produce more offspring universes than lifeless universes, then a progressive and purposeful (in the same sense that eyes are purposeful) evolutionary process that’s almost guaranteed to produce intelligent life and culture is just what a Darwinian would expect.

Tiberius and Gaius Speaking offers An Inductive argument from faith that God does not exist. He argues that the prevalence of "faith-based arguments" inductively supports the claim that it is reasonable to believe God does not exist. I'm not sure how compelling the argument is, but you've got to admire the sheer cheek of it!

Matt at Daily Phil argues in favour of Antecedent Naturalism, according to which we take as our starting point the following three principles:
1. Unity - There is only one world in which everything resides...
2. Realism - Nature goes beyond (our) conceptualization / cognitive activity.
3. Continuity - Experience is an engagement with the real elements of nature.

Truth and Fiction

Clark Goble discusses Heidegger and Truth, explaining that "Heidegger accepts our commonsense notion of correspondence. He just rejects as empty or at best unhelpful the theory of truth that is called correspondence."

Over in Fake Barn Country, Jonathan Ichikawa writes about Embedded Fictions and Iterative Imaginings:
We sometimes, but not always, have blunted affective engagement with iterated fictions -- fictional fictions. What explains the difference? I suggest that it has to do with an interest in imagining what's true in the fiction.


Uriah of Desert Landscapes writes about Dainton on the Phenomenal Self, defending the conception of the phenomenal self as a “bare locus of apprehension” against Dainton's objection that without any content to apprehend, being such a 'bare locus' would be subjectively indistinguishable from not-existence. A commentator suggests the slogan: "Phenomenal contents and a subject of experience — you can’t have one without the other."

Consciousness and Culture suggests that the adaptive function of conscious awareness is
[to introduce] a gap or distance between stimulus and response, which makes the stimulus available but not determinate. And this in turn allows for an exceptionally flexible form of behavioral control... [This view implies that] the mechanism of consciousness must have two main components -- two sides of the gap, so to speak -- one of which "presents" the environmental stimuli in some structured manner, while the other "apprehends" such presentations in some "loosely coupled" manner.

Ethics and Society

Will Wilkinson at The Fly Bottle has a fascinating post suggesting that:
Maybe the way to maintain a sense of freedom when in chains is also a way to manage agoraphobic hyperventilation in the unbounded consumer paradise.

Don't miss Jason Kuznicki On Nurturing as the True Purpose of Marriage:
Here I argue that the reason for marriage is neither solely to produce children, nor to seek romantic fulfillment, nor merely to contract with the government for rights or benefits. I propose another model, arguing that it explains the institution of marriage much better than the common reasons given for it in the same-sex marriage debate.

Jim Sias at common sense philosophy defends our moral intuitions against Singer's charge of inconsistency. Sias shows how the coherence of two apparently conflicting intuitions can be restored by taking care to generalize them under the appropriate principle.

In Blackburn, Anscombe, and Natural Law, Edward Feser critiques Simon Blackburn's recent review of the new collection of G.E.M. Anscombe essays. There's also some fun discussion in the comments questioning the plausibility of natural law theory.

The Sharpener raises the question: Why don't we use torture?
Not because of the low effectiveness rate of torture — but because torture fundamentally breaches human rights, including but not exclusively the presumption of innocence.

On my other blog, a short post quoting Nick Bostrom on the "urgent, screaming moral imperative" of anti-aging research provoked some interesting comments, from a range of perspectives, on such issues as how to assess the value of a life, and whether death is bad for you. Feel free to join the discussion!


In the delightfully titled Characterizing a Fogbank: What Is Postmodernism, and Why Do I Take Such a Dim View of it? Keith DeRose follows through on the title's promise with a post as interesting as it is long. The thriving comments thread is well worth a skim too.

Brian Weatherson quotes and discusses Soames on History, contrasting philosophically relevant history of philosophy vs. history-for-history's-sake history of philosophy. (The critical discussion in the comments section is also very interesting.)

Fluid Imagination, in Value Added Philosophy, first offers an abstract of Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and then a critical response -- suggesting that Rorty's concept of edifying philosophy is ill-served by his hermeneutical program and that a better method might focus on "creation" instead of "translation".

Another critique of the book is found over at Strictly Speaking, specifically targeting Rorty's use of Wittgenstein's views of philosophical discourse.

New Blogs

To quickly introduce a couple of blogs you might not have come across before: The Atheist Ethicist celebrates his 50th post by offering "a sampling of some of the issues that I have written about in my first fifty days."

In the introductory post of "Mapping Out the Moral High Ground", Reuben invites topic suggestions and general discussion of his novel approach to life's problems:
Each week or so I will ask a question concerning some aspect of my lifestyle. After it has been discussed and a conclusion reached I shall alter my life style accordingly.
(I understand Reuben is currently flat out finishing his Honours research project. But be sure to check back in a couple of weeks.)

That's it for this edition of the carnival, I do hope you've enjoyed it. Many thanks to all those who made the effort of submitting a post. If others would like to find out how they can contribute in future, check out the Philosophers' Carnival homepage.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Religion: a barrier to clear thinking

For this final article in the Clear Thinking series I asked myself ‘what is the biggest obstacle to thinking clearly about social and political issues?’ Several answers suggested themselves but time and again I came back to the same thing: religion. In deciding what kind of society to have and what kinds of policies government should pursue, many people take the dictates of religion to be an authoritative guide. Arguing against abortion and euthanasia by appealing to the sanctity of life given by God is but one example, but the same influence occurs in just about every imaginable topic. What we ought to do, so many people believe, depends upon what religion tells us.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What religion says is irrelevant to deciding what we ought to do.

The fallacy of grounding morality upon religion was pointed out by Plato over two thousand years ago. If we discovered that the true religion (if we knew what that was) required us to drown kittens for fun, indiscriminately shoot people, and generally be a nuisance we would not (hopefully anyway) take that as a reason to do those activities. This shows that there are independent standards for what we should do, independent that is of the dictates of religion. What makes it right or wrong for society to allow some activity does not depend on whether religion says it is okay. On the contrary, if religion says it is okay that is because it is okay for reasons independent of what religion says. In short, reason rather than religion should be our guide.

Plato’s pretty convincing demonstration has been ignored by the vast majority of people in the intervening millennia. Why are appeals to religion so common? We might think that religion is not so influential today as in say the middle ages, but events of recent years seem to indicate that more and more people across the globe are letting religion be their guide about decisions for what kind of society to have as well as in personal matters.

There are, I suggest, two reasons for this.

The first is that appeals to religion are so much easier than thinking carefully about issues. Pointing to a list of ten commandments carved in stone or written in a book saves us the trouble of having to figure out for ourselves what to do or what kind of society to have.

It is no doubt true that appealing to religion is easier, but this of course does not make such appeals appropriate. To avoid difficult questions by taking the easy way out is irresponsible.

The second reason is that for many, religion provides some kind of objectivity about ethics that cannot be got any other way. Reason and argument, on this view, are merely personal opinions and such opinions are neither right or wrong, good or bad, correct or incorrect. They are just that: opinions. There are as many opinions as there are people in the world and relying on reason and argument will result in interminable disagreement. Religion on the other hand at least provides (relatively) clear guidance, and guidance from (it is hoped) someone or something who is entitled to decide.

This picture of ethics is an inaccurate one according to philosopher Derek Parfit. He suggests that due to the dominance of religion, non-religious thinking about ethics is something that has been done by only a handful of people (Plato was one) throughout history. It is one of the youngest of subjects. Hence it is no wonder that it has not yet produced clear guidelines. Expecting it to do so is like expecting primitive people of 10,000 years ago to provide clear principles of thermodynamics. To give up on reason and turn to religion is to give up far too prematurely. With more thought, reason will provide the answers that people seek in religion.

So we can be hopeful that by setting aside religion and thinking clearly about social and political issues, the prospects of arriving at reasoned consensus on those issues are good.

Monday, October 17, 2005

consequences of the depletion of oil

Richard, in a comment on Alex's post "comments on society", writes "So yes, I am still unconcerned about resource depletion. (I remain very concerned about externalities, however; there is no "mere" about it.) Oil prices are going up (no matter the taxes) which will prevent overconsumption and provide an incentive to develop alternatives.That doesn't mean we should just ignore it, of course. I strongly support the Greens' plans to improve public transport, etc. My point is just that we don't need to worry about people using scarce resources irresponsibly. The simple fact is that in a functioning market, people can't afford to overconsume scarce resources. They can make more money through conservation."

The point I want to make is perhaps not relevant to Richard's comment (since I'm not sure that his 'unconcern' about the depletion of oil would extend to this context) and so is not a criticism of his comment, but rather a tangent that builds upon it. I want to address the "...we don't need to worry..." part. I want to talk in particular about the depletion of oil and about possible worrying consequences that are not generally held to be externalities in the sense in which pollution is an externalities. There is great (and increasing) international reliance on oil for transport of everything, including food. There is also great (and increasing) reliance on forms of agriculture that, while arguably more cost efficient than more traditional forms, are also much more reliant on pesticides (of which a key ingredient is oil). Oil is still a major source of electrical power. My general point is that, as we know, the market is not egalitarian in its geographic and socioeconomic distribution of costs and benefits. Those who are likely to lose from the projected huge increases in the price of oil will primarily be people in third world countries and the poor in general.

The most immediate peak-oil problem is that we face a steady increase in its price as the world demand (in barrels per day) outstrips world supply (barrels that can be extracted and refined per day). The supply, in this sense, is partly a matter of the technology of extraction and refining but, more importantly, is a matter of resource depletion. We should not expect the market to come up with and implement an alternative very quickly. The necessary research and development probably will not be carried out until times are dire enough that it becomes profitable to invest in the uncertain gains of research over the increasingly lucrative market for oil.
Further, even after the development of alternatives, I see no reason to think that the alternatives would be distributed in the amounts necessary to the poor. Rather, they would simply go to those who can afford to buy the technology, or, more optimistically, would be provided as a public good by governments of rich nations to their domestic populations. Meanwhile, in the time that it takes to bring the alternative technology to the poor, they are not likely to be able to afford what remains of the oil either, as both the extraction and refining of oil will be much more expensive. While we may optimistically suppose that governments of first world nations will undertake the requisite investment, we cannot expect the governments of the majority of the world's nations to make similar investments in their own countries.

There are also likely to be food shortages until the forms of agriculture can be returned to those that do not rely as heavily on pesticide and forms of economy that do not rely as heavily on international trade. From what I remember, there are constraints on the speed at which the forms of agriculture can be changed. For one, the seeds for strands of crops that rely less on pesticides are becoming less common in an international switch towards homogeneous use of high-yield, pesticide-heavy, strands. Second, the soil used to support the latter kind of crop, or to support the form of agriculture that sees repetitive planting of the same crop may take a few years to return to being the kind of soil that can support traditional farming methods.

Add to these problems their likely accompaniments of an increase in resource wars (both among nations and among local militias) in order to procure both oil and food and the general increase in social disarray and violence expected in times of economic crisis and we have a pretty dismal picture of what we can expect even if there is an eventual introduction of alternative energy. In particular, while the first world and the rich more generally may come off relatively unscathed (facing only a drastic, but survivable, change in their patterns of consumption), the poor face the possibility of vast food shortages, even less access to electricity and intra-national or even inter-national war. I also suppose that given the international wars for oil, the mightiest nations will maintain access to oil for the longest period. Coupled with the likely dire consequences for the third world, this privileged access will probably mean that the gap in wealth and in social conditions between the mighty nations and the third world will increase.

I suggest that we cannot let the market deal with the depletion of oil. We need fairly urgent action by governments around the world (especially those of the rich nations) to invest, both nationally and in the third world, in discovering alternatives and laying down the requisite infrastucture and especially to promote economies that can function well at least in the intermediate stage between the rise in oil prices and the global introduction of alternatives. Of course, if such changes in the policies of nations are to be possible, they would probably have to be coupled with wider concerns of domestic governance in the rich nations, the terms of operation of international financial institutions, media reform in various first world countries and so on.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Philosophy for Kids

I've previously posted on my own blog about teaching kids philosophy. But it seems appropriate to raise the issue here too. Here are three relevant articles:

One discusses Harvard's Project Zero, which I think sounds very interesting:
Up to 70 per cent of Project Zero's work involves schools. One of its projects - known as "visible thinking" - gives teachers strategies to encourage deep thinking among students.

"We would like schoolchildren to learn to think and learn in a stronger way," Professor Perkins says. "One simple problem with thinking is that it's invisible. So the basic philosophy of this initiative is to make thinking more visible in classrooms so that children can see their own thinking and teachers can see it at work so they can get a hold of it and improve it."

For the utilitarians among us, another confirmed that a philosophy for children programme "was making a real difference to academic results and had resulted in children behaving in a less aggressive and more mature way."

The third contains much of interest. For those who doubt whether kids are ready for philosophy:
Gareth Matthews was in Japan last year talking to fifth-graders about perfect happiness. He read them a story he had written about a child absorbed in the satisfaction of scratching an insect bite. Could this define perfect happiness?

"Scratching an insect bite and enjoying it so much that at the moment you don't enjoy anything else is only one petal on the flower of happiness," one child said.

Matthews, a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was impressed. "Adults are not generally aware of the fact that children are capable of raising interesting philosophical questions and pursuing interesting philosophical issues," he said.

It continues:
Mount Holyoke College philosophy professor Thomas Wartenberg teaches a course called "Philosophy for Children." College students help develop questions based on picture books and then lead discussions for second- and fifth-graders at Jackson Street Elementary School in Northampton, Mass. Out of the adventures of storybook characters come such questions as "What is courage?" Lively discussions develop around the topics of beauty, truth, justice and reality.

Under Wartenberg's supervision, college students help grade-schoolers create a "community of inquiry" in which children learn the crucial elements of a philosophical discussion. He tells children, "You have to listen carefully and think hard and then make up your mind. If you can't defend your answer, you have to think some more."

This sounds like really fun and worthwhile stuff. I wonder if there'd be any chance of a similar programme being developed here at Canterbury?

Recommended Links:

Update [Feb 07]: More here:
New research from Dundee University suggests learning philosophy raises children's IQ by up to 6.5 points and improves their emotional intelligence.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Arguments on a downhill slide

In debates on any social issue, it is not long before a slippery-slope argument is made. Such arguments take the following form: even though X in itself is not wrong, if X is allowed to occur then Y will also occur and Y is wrong.

Take the euthanasia debate. Some argue that while the terminally ill ideally should have the right to end their own lives, if society allowed this there is the danger that some people would be forced into ending their lives against their will. And that would only be the first step down a slippery slope. People might be killed without even being asked, ‘unproductive’ members of society could be despatched, and who knows what other horrors could be upon us.

Slippery slope arguments are difficult to respond to for two reasons. First they appeal to consequences that are undeniably bad. No one would doubt that a society in which the frail and elderly are killed against their will would be a terrible society. Second they emphasise that no one can say for certain that those bad consequences would not occur. If euthanasia were legalised we don’t know for sure what would happen and if there is some chance of the dire predictions coming true that seems a compelling case against it. Campaigners for euthanasia emphasise that it would be subjected to careful regulation, but how can we be certain that this regulation would succeed? And even if we were, those who make the slippery slope argument respond that euthanasia would bring about a change is people’s beliefs such that the sanctity of life would be undermined, which no amount of regulation could prevent.

Despite these strengths, slippery slope arguments ought to be avoided. It is not enough to point out the mere possibility of something bad happening. That would rule out every conceivable change to society. It has to be shown that the bad things are likely to happen. And for this evidence must be given. Those who make slippery slope arguments are seldom forthcoming with evidence and when they are they usually select only the evidence that supports their case, conveniently ignoring the rest.

Philosopher Richard Arneson has pointed out how, in response to some proposed change to society, uncertainty about the future leads to highly speculative harms being over-exaggerated. British politicians in the Victorian ages, for example, argued that allowing divorced mothers access to their own children would bring about the downfall of the family. To allow unfounded speculative harms to outweigh the real benefits that would be done by say allowing the terminally ill to end their own lives is absurd.

Slippery slope arguments should be resisted by pointing out the clear differences in the steps on the slope. In euthanasia, there is a clear difference between the terminally ill freely choosing to end their live and people being killed against their will. In the absence of any evidence of slipperiness from one step to the next, we can be as sure as it is possible to be that society will not slide down the slope.

Postmodern Abuses of Science

I’ve just come across the most delicious hoax! In 1996, Alan Sokal, a New York University theoretical physicist submitted an essay to Social Text, an influential cultural studies journal, entitled ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’. It claimed to be a scholarly article about the postmodern philosophical and political implications of twentieth century physical theories. The central thesis of this article is that quantum gravity (a highly theoretical and still speculative theory of time and space on minute scales - scales of one millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter) has profound and far reaching progressive political and social implications. The article was reviewed by five members of Social Text's editorial board and accepted for publication; it appeared in a special issue of the journal devoted to the ‘Science Wars’ - an ongoing debate between the social sciences and cultural studies on one hand (specifically, postmodern science studies), and natural sciences on the other. Supposedly, this special issue was supposed to vindicate claims of the incompetence of postmodern science studies.

Sokal later revealed the article as a hoax. Alongside some truths, it is an array of deliberately concocted partial-truths, blatant falsehoods, non-sequiturs, and syntactically correct sentences that are ultimately meaningless. Have a read: http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/, it is absolutely hilarious! Take this example: ‘Just as liberal feminists are frequently content with a minimal agenda of legal and social equality for women and are ‘pro-choice,’ so liberal (and even some socialist) mathematicians are often content to work within the hegemonic Zermelo-Fraenkel framework (which, reflecting its nineteenth-century origins, already incorporates the axiom of equality) supplemented only by the axiom of choice. But this framework is grossly insufficient for a liberatory mathematics, as was proven long ago by Cohen 1966.’

While I am certainly no expert in mathematics or set theory, it's pretty hard to believe that any editor who knew what the various terms actually mean would not have had some doubts about this passage. What the hell does the axiom of equality in set theory have to do with liberalism, or, indeed, with any political philosophy? Similarly, the axiom of choice clearly has nothing to do with the issue of choice in the abortion debate. Even so, no argument is offered to this end. Wouldn't any editor who had the vaguest knowledge of mathematics have required just a little more by way of explanation here, in order to make these connections just a bit more clear? (Also: ‘liberatory mathematics’? Classic!) Such examples abound – at one point Sokal explicitly, and without argument, denies the existence of the external world. (To assert otherwise would be to ‘cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook...’)

The article, which is almost entirely a pastiche of quotes from a variety of postmodern theorists such as Lacan, Lyotard, Derrida, and Latour et al, constructs a parody almost entirely out of the parodied – something which, ironically, some of the postmodernists under attack would surely appreciate! The disturbing thing I find here is not only the fact that this article was accepted and published as a serious piece of scholarship (what happened to peer review? Any maths or physics undergrad would see through the nonsense!), but that Sokal based it on strategies that are well-established within the postmodern literary genre: appeal to authority instead of logical argument; speculative theories passed off as established science; absurd analogies; ambiguous rhetoric; and confusion between everyday and technical uses of words.

Check out this actual example of postmodern sheer pseudo-scientific brilliance, courtesy of Felix Guattari: ‘We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multi-referential, multidimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their extension: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously.’

What happened to the standards of academic scholarship? Any thoughts on postmodernism, or the intellectual sloppiness often found in postmodern writings? Anyway, read Sokal’s article if you want a good chuckle.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

comments on society

Today’s society is far from perfect. Don’t fear, this article is not intended to be negative. It simply recognizes certain faults in our society, and that’s needed to open the door to a discussion of the way forward. The problems first, and then, tentatively, a solution. We are the running out of fossil fuels. The environment is suffering from the effects of various pollutants, deforestation, other radical interferences. Many suffer from feelings of depression, isolation and apathy. And add insult to injury we are working harder than ever. Half a century ago only half of the adult population worked: that number has nearly doubled and the standard of living has not increased proportionally. The future is scary.

What the hell, it’s a dog eat dog world, right? Of course people will keep driving their cars, and keep knocking over forests to create grazing land for the hamburgers of tomorrow, right? And there’s just nothing we can do about it, right? Well, I’d like to think there is. Maybe, just maybe, we can find out what’s wrong and fix it. I know what follows is a simplification, but I’m hoping it gets at some truth despite.

Why do we use so much fossil fuel? One reason: everything is so darn far from everything else. The things that we care about are spread across miles and miles. Why else? We can’t be expected to freeze can we? But even so, why fossil fuel? The biggest reason all seems to be that its easy. Someone, some big multinational someone, has set it up to work for you, somewhere far away where you can’t see the consequences of your actions. You can’t smell the oil, see the machines churning and grinding. And they don’t expect you to think (in fact they’d rather you didn’t) about how much is left.

Why we deforest, pollute and so forth? You already know part of the answer. Somebody else is making it easy for you. And when you buy that hamburger that caused a tree to go down you make it easy for them too. They can tell themselves they aren’t choosing to deforest, they’re just doing what the market demands. Am I being unfair? Maybe. Perhaps I am giving some South American farmers a short shaft. They have to do what lets them survive. But that’s the point. There are things that they shouldn’t have to do.

What about the more woolly issues, depression, isolation, apathy? A short answer would be really trite. But maybe we can find some of the factors. Lets look at isolation. In our society we live in small groups: couples or families or at most a group of flatmates. We spend long hours at work, often alone at a desk. And people fall through the gaps. We live in a way that lets people slip through unnoticed, unconnected to other people, and with nowhere to go. Is it any wonder that people feel isolated? Some things are just damn difficult to do by yourself, or with a small group of people. Child birth and rearing young kids are some of those things. Two people, at least one of whom is working, simply can’t be expected to have an easy time of it. And it seems like it doesn’t need to be this way.

What about apathy and the long working hours? Here I hazard a guess at the cause: longs hours of monotonous jobs that we don’t or can’t connect with. The benefits of the jobs we do are often just simply not apparent. Who cares that 1000 more widgets have had their wobbles attached, or that 44 people have been distributed copies of that new bestseller, or that one more company has won its lawsuit against yet another company? Did those twelve year olds really need those stylish new clothes we manufactured and sold them? Maybe it pays the bills, but something seems to be wrong.

With the above said do we even need to talk about depression?

Perhaps these problems have a common cause. Perhaps they are linked to the society in which we live. And as such, perhaps a different social structure would serve us better. The question is what kind of system we want. Hopefully you’ll help me with the details, but some things pop out at me. It seems that instead of having big organizations like countries matter so much, we need the focus to be on smaller groups: small enough that everybody knows everybody. People can interact with each other more, know each other more, give each other support. It seems that the majority of the labour should go towards the welfare of these groups. We need to see what we are doing, so that we can feel pride and reap meaning from it, and so that we have to live down the things we do and feel culpable. We need to be more driven by things that matter, not influenced by consumerism, which it seems to me can only work on a large scale. We need to stop working when the days work is done and when it no longer feels worth while. We shouldn’t produce for the sake of production. Working at things that matter to you will be, I hope, a way of life, not an obligation. I hope we will not have to force people to work, but that it will just be a social norm. And individuals will have the right to exit the society whenever they wish.

This is not a reversion to tribalism, but a movement forward. Good communication will have to be maintained between the communities. Technological innovations need not be lost, though some will need to be rethought, and greener. Technological progress can even be made, and will have to be as different situations arise. I’m imagining that there will be no power hierarchy. In theory at least, all members can have a voice in all matters, and will be the one with the loudest voice on those things that concern them most and about which they are most informed. (I do mean all members, but I take it that children will rarely count in the most informed category.) Like I said, the details need to be worked out. Hopefully this is something to start with.

I’ve compiled a wee list of things that strike me as important. Have a look, and then contribute!

Things such a community should do
1) Use wind or solar power.
2) Use sustainable agricultural practice
3) Give the right of exit
4) Maintain strong ties of communication with other groups
5) Grow only to such a size that all members know each other well
6) Be there for each other

Things we can do now
1) Consume less
2) Where possible, buy second hand goods rather than first hand.
3) Support sustainable agricultural practice
4) Follow community focused practices!: Be there for other people. Help people move house, proofread other people’s essays, cook for anyone who’s ill. Maybe we could find a group of people who will commit to do these things for each other?
5) Get information out! (See below)

Getting information out
1) Talk to people about these sorts of issues.
2) Post on websites.
3) Attempt other forms of communication with these sorts of ideas in mind: i.e. academic writing, fiction writing. . .

Friday, October 07, 2005

Outfoxing Plagiarists

Uriah Kriegel has some clever advice for fighting plagiarism:
Every assignment I give is a two part assignment. The first part is to read your institution’s academic code of honesty plagiarism section. The second part is to write a paper. Failure to fulfil one of the two parts is failure to do the assignment, therefore deserving of a failing grade.

What this does is neutralize the “I didn’t know it was plagiarism” line. A student who didn’t know it was plagiarism did not fulfil the first part of the assignment and therefore fails.