Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lies, damned lies, and plagiarism

This paragraph stuck out at me in Stanley Fish's latest piece on plagiarism on the NY Times web site:

And if there should emerge a powerful philosophical argument saying there’s no such thing as originality, its emergence needn’t alter or even bother for a second a practice that can only get started if originality is assumed as a baseline. It may be (to offer another example), as I have argued elsewhere, that there’s no such thing as free speech, but if you want to have a free speech regime because you believe that it is essential to the maintenance of democracy, just forget what Stanley Fish said — after all it’s just a theoretical argument — and get down to it as lawyers and judges in fact do all the time without the benefit or hindrance of any metaphysical rap. Everyday disciplinary practices do not rest on a foundation of philosophy or theory; they rest on a foundation of themselves; no theory or philosophy can either prop them up or topple them. As long as the practice is ongoing and flourishing its conventions will command respect and allegiance and flouting them will have negative consequences.
Sems to me the same argument could be made about "objectivity" or "aesthetics" amongst other ideas discussed in this blog. The point, that a standard need not be somehow supported by the fundamental structure of the universe, but can be constructed largely for the needs and desires of a group of people, parallels the idea of maps as propositions or arguments rather than statements of fact.

The point I would make is that it is important to note that we are talking about the formal rules and criteria of judging communications about a subject, not about the subject itself. In the subject of the article, not attributing a quote (plagiarism) is not the same as faking lab results. In the same way, making a map with a bias is different from making a map with errors. One is untrue to the "objective" rules of map discourse, and may be disparaged within the map community for this. The other is a untrue to the physical subject of the map, and is a lie.

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