The paradox of plagiarism

The greater the influence the plagiarist exercises over the whole of society, the more inadmissible is the transgression.

Es más transgresor e inadmisible conforme más influencia ejerza el plagiario sobre el íntegro de la sociedad.Es más transgresor e inadmisible conforme más influencia ejerza el plagiario sobre el íntegro de la sociedad. Es más transgresor e inadmisible conforme más influencia ejerza el plagiario sobre el íntegro de la sociedad - See more at:
 Es más transgresor e inadmisible conforme más influencia ejerza el plagiario sobre el íntegro de la sociedad - See more at:
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Among literary figures ideas have been plagiarized since time immemorial. There are at least four Fausts, based on the Faustbuch of 1597: that of Marlowe (1604), Goethe (1808), Turgenev (1850) and Thomas Mann (1947), to mention the most cited authors. One could ask if the idea of the sale of the soul to the devil for love, money and power, outlined in the Faustbuch of 1597 should be mentioned by every author who uses this idea that was later used in operas, ballets, poems, etc. The idea of Faust is recreated every time. Is a recreation the same as plagiarism? The answer is no.  If an author or authoress (though to date it appears to be a masculine activity) takes the exact words of another and reproduces them as his own, that is plagiarism.


The first acceptation of plagiarism in the twenty-third edition of the Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua says: "Copiar en lo sustancial obras ajenas, dándolas como propias" [To copy the substance of the works of others, presenting them as one's own"] This refers us immediately to the concept of the truth. Is what I say true? Or in reality someone else said it and I repeat it so that it appears to be my truth, or in reality it is an appearance. If it is not my truth, why do I say it? Does this make it a lie? These are the essential questions that are made above all to the expressers of the truth and to the formers of conscience, those who must teach others to distinguish between the truth and lies, between one's own and that of others, between good and evil. This has always been the role of teachers and priests. Is stealing others’ words, others’ ideas, less of a robbery than the theft of a watch? Or robbing a current account in a bank?  Is an assault on discovered truth a lesser assault than an assault on a bank?


It is a paradox when, in the university world as in the religious world, we discover that those who search for and defend the truth have become plagiarists, when they take the work of others and present them as their own.  This is an expression of the decomposition of contemporary society urged by rapid gratifications rather than the truth. Urged on by money and power, like Faust, and not by truth. A society that sells its soul to the devil so as to feign, a society that hopes for the next newspaper column, the next book that will allow for a promotion in the university world, the next homily that will allow one to inflict a blow on a political adversary. Religion denigrated and intellectual life destroyed in the name of instant gratification, power and money. For the priest it is the paradox of his theological apprenticeship over the search and defence of revealed truth, just as for the academic, whose daily task is the permanent search for scientific truth.


Ferrater Mora says in his Diccionario de Filosofía (5th edition) that “the word ‘truth’ is used primarily in two senses: to refer to a proposition and to refer to a reality. In the first case it is applied to a proposition that it is true as differing from ‘false’. In the second case it is applied to a reality that it is true as distinguished from the ‘apparent’, ‘illusionary’, ‘unreal’, ‘non-existent’, etc.” (884).  The reality of the plagiarized text is illusionary; it is not the expression of the plagiarizer but of the person plagiarized.


Ferrater Mora Mora adds that the Greek sense of truth differs from the Hebrew. Truth in the Greek sense has to do with what is permanent in face of what is changing. In this approach, truth is confronted with falsity, illusion, appearances. Truth in the Hebrew sense is security, confidence. "Therefore the truth of things is not their reality in the face of appearance, but their fidelity in the face of infidelity. So the true is, for the Hebrew, that which is faithful, that which fulfills or will fulfill its promise, and because of this God is the only truth because he is the only really faithful being." (884). The plagiarist in the last instance is a big liar.


For both reasons the guardians of the truth are the teachers and the priests. They cannot be liars under any circumstances. The discovery in Mexico that a doctoral thesis from the Colegio de México was the copy of another thesis already published in English, and that the young doctor ascended from associate professor in the Universidad Nicolaita de Michoacan, to become dean of post-graduate studies, has created a scandal in the university world. In the scale of lesser to greater, the discovery that a researcher at the top level of the national system of researchers in Mexico, whose grant is perpetual and equivalent to a third of his monthly income, had also plagiarized at least one work, has called attention to the way that scientific work is promoted. Research is the search for truth and the top prize should go to whoever does this the best.  These researchers of the SNI III are the jurors who emit opinions on the works of unknown youths who want to enter the system, works which are submitted to them so that they can determine if these young people merit or not to be rewarded for their new work.


At the peak there is a Cardinal, in Peru, who plagiarized his newspaper columns, not once but several times. The highest defender against lies and evil, the carrier of the Catholic conscience, the maximum expression of Catholic values in the public forum, was trapped just like the cited academics, for the urgency to publish. In this latter case, not to obtain money and power, but to enjoy the power of the word and hierarchy.  The joy of exercising the political power of the word, without caring about truth, nor God, nor Catholic values, even though what is plagiarized refers to these.


In just a few days these three cases have stirred up the theme of truth, falseness, creativity, and the Faustian sale of the soul to the devil for money and power. Plagiarism must always be sanctioned in an exemplary manner, from king to page. The greater the influence the plagiarist exercises over the whole of society, the more inadmissible is the transgression.  Demonstrating that plagiarism can be done by anyone without punishment is to give a nefarious example, even worse if the person who does it is a former of consciences, a searcher of truth, a priest of ideas or the faith. The Mexican professors have been defenestrated by their institutions. The Peruvian Cardinal has lost the column in the newspaper where he published.


Mexico, 13 de agosto de 2015


(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)



- Oscar Ugarteche is a researcher with the Institute of Economic Investigations UNAM, Member of the SN/Conacyt, Coordinator of the Obela project

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