If it is true that, in one respect, philosophy and its students are in the business of discussing concepts, terms and ideas in a most general way, then recent observations by this writer suggest that some students of philosophy at the University were absent the day honesty and integrity were discussed.
Philosophy majors at the University have the option of taking a senior seminar designed to help them write their senior theses while gaining helpful criticism from their fellow philosophy majors and faculty members. Students present their essays on specified dates, and each must read about four essays by other students per week. Everyone responds to the essays both on paper and orally.
The students of this class do not sign anything like a formal contract obligating them to read each and every essay (and drafts of those essays). However, that they enrolled in the class knowing full well what it would entail ought to be contract enough. Embarrassingly, not all of the students take the class to the utmost level of seriousness. In a phrase, these students have a double standard: You read my essay (and all the drafts of it), but I shall read yours if I wish, and maybe I’ll lie to you about it.
One essay, authored by Jim, was not read by Sarah. Obviously, Sarah and Jim are pseudonyms. The reason for Sarah’s recalcitrance, as she told me, was that she did not like the title of Jim’s essay and she was afraid of reading it, presumably because she felt the material would be too difficult.
Later, in an unrelated situation this term, by which time Sarah certainly should have had time to read Jim’s paper, she needed a new copy of his essay because she had thrown it away without ever having read it, and for the same reasons as above.
Sarah had decided what material in the course was important not based on the structure of the class, but on personal preference. She simply did not like the title of the essay and was scared of it! Twice! Are these “reasons” supposed to be taken literally? What if the essay were a professor’s; would she have given the same excuse? Of students in any major, one would think those in philosophy would know the difference between a reason and a pathetic excuse.
This diatribe is not meant to suggest that Sarah is the only student I’ve seen act in such a manner; she is just one example of a certain repugnant attitude that needed to be commented upon. This example illustrates a lack of respect some students seem to hold regarding other students and a level of academic integrity far south of anything we should expect at the University. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre would have called Sarah’s action a case of “mauvaise foior,” self-deception, for it does not matter in the least whether one does not like the title of some essay or is afraid of the difficult content. The fact remains that it is still an assignment and, given that the student did enroll in the class (and hence, must accept the rules), one must either complete it or give a respectable reason why not.
It is indeed embarrassing that I, or anyone, should have to mention this to students of higher learning. But what is worse still is the fact that a student was lied to and cheated out of some portion of his education. Here we might take some advise from the philosopher Immanuel Kant: If you cannot will that your action should be taken by everyone, then you ought not do it. If you do not wish to be lied to and cheated in some way or other, then do not do it yourself.
Everything I have said about honesty and integrity holds, mutatis mutandis, for every other student in any other major. Please think about it, if not for your fellow students, then for yourself.
Michael Donlin is a student in philosophy at the University.