Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Authority and Inequality

In this podcast, Alex Voorhoeve points out that one important problem with inequality is that it gives one person power over another. The problem isn't just that you are rich and I am poor, but that as a result of this, you can fuck with me. I do more than resent your success, I fear for my safety.

Over the last few years, I've grown into the habit of thinking of the moral emotions in terms of Haidt's five fold system, and as a part of this, I thought of all issues of equality and all sorts of Rawlsian concerns as matters of fairness. If one person is rich and one is poor, this is a problem for the "fairness/reciprocity" set of instincts which liberals recognize. But a lot of times that's not the problem. The problem is with the authority/hierarchy instincts. These are instincts that conservatives think of as moral, but liberals are indifferent to. Conservatives believe that obedience and dereference to your betters are good, while liberals think that all urges toward obedience are irrational and should be expelled.

So here's my big revelation: the authority/hierarchy instincts are not just amoral. They are immoral. They aren't just irrelevant for moral thinking. They systematically lead us astray.

If this is right, it is big. The typical liberal critique of the conservative moral emotions is that they are prejudices. The big example here are the moral emotions associated with purity and sanctity, which include the feelings of disgust we have at people whose sexual practices violate our rules. Liberals tend to reject these instincts, which is all well and good when it comes to accepting gays, but is harder to when it comes to rejecting instincts against incest.

Personally, I do accept the moral importance of some purity instincts, including the instinct against incest. But I want to go farther than simply rejecting the moral importance of the authority/hierarchy instinct. It is not just mistaken. It is systematically the opposite of true.

Ok, now I've written that. I'll see if I believe it in the morning.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

test driving free plagiarism detection software.

I just caught a student cheating, so now is a good opportunity to check the various free plagiarism detection services which are out there. Using Google, I've found one online source which is a close match for one of the student's paragraphs. I want to see whether the free online services will be able to find the match I found and match the rest of the document. I am particularly interested in output: I'd like to see side-by-side comparisons of the paper and the original source, with the matching passages marked. This is what I did for the one paragraph match I found

If you have comparisons like this for the whole document, you are pretty much justified in throwing the book at the student. I have redacted the student's name, which is what I believe is required by FERPA.

See Sources Seesources.com

This page is a freebie teaser for a pay version called Plagscan, which costs about a penny a page and is available at plagscan.com. It lets you upload your whole file as an attachment, rather than cutting and pasting paragraphs into a little field. The nice looking output is reserved for paying customers. What I got looks like this.


The software caught matches I did not, but it only caught direct quotes, and not slight paraphrases like "Hypothetical Imperatives conditionally demand" for "A hypothetical imperative conditionally demands." You could use these to get to the rest of the copying, though. More interestingingly, at a penny a page, blanket coverage for me would only cost $5-$10 a semester, which I could pay out of pocket.


Didn't catch anything. FAIL.

Plagiarism Checker.

Produced by the University of Maryland Department of Education. This is again a free teaser for a subscription product, which at $8 a month is again something I could pay out of pocket. The whole thing is Google driven, and when it finds a hit, it just gives you links to a Google search for the exact phrase it hit on. The subscription version will let you upload files directly and will ignore material in quotes. If this is all it adds, it doesn't seem worth it. Output below.

Testing free plagiarism detection services: plagiarism checker

Ok, the kids are freaking out. I'll finish this later. I need to check these two.

Copy Tracker




Friday, December 03, 2010

Scholars of the Valley.

The Grand Mother-Empress summoned the greatest scholars of the River, the impuritans of the lower valley and the Maximalists of the upper valley, to debate her divinity. Privately, she hoped she was not divine.

The impuritans, charged with negative position, sent as their first arguer, a boy of eleven. Boy-of-eleven was quite a prodigy, to be sure, but no one expected him to win an imperial debate. The Maximalists clearly didn't expect him to win, as they sent out an over-the-hill back bencher, who was scarcely an imperial class arguer when he was in his prime. Looking uncomfortable in a brand new formal suit, Boy-of-Eleven looked like he had just come from his manhood ceremony, which would in fact not be for two more years. Back-Bencher wore the suit he wore when he won his most famous argument, some twenty years ago.

"Hey kid. Don't think for a moment that I'm going to take it easy on you because your a kid." Back-Bencher said as the two shook hands.

The kid won the toss, and got to choose the style of argument. "Dissent" he called. "I'll take the skeptical position." This was a safe move for him. In a dissent all the skeptic has to do is prove that the positive side has not made its case. In a debate, by contrast, both sides have positions they are trying to prove, and it is possible for the argument to end in a tie.

"Inductive reasoning," Back-Bencher replied, "from plausible premises." He was, at least, not simply handing the boy the match. If he had called for deductive reasoning or self evident premises, he would have a harder row to hoe. Perhaps he knew his limitations.

"I assert the divinity of the grand Mother-Empress," declared the Back-Bencher, "and as evidence I offer the prosperity of the valley."

With this opening move, the grand Mother-Empress sighed, not loudly, but enough that that she could be heard by her chief advisor on her left and her eldest son on her right.