Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Student Papers

I was just on the phone with a friend who by choice went the community college track with her career. It's a noble thing to do for those who feel that they're well equipped for it. She teaches more classes in a semester than I teach in two years, and teaches more undergrads in a semester than I teach in probably three years. She generally finds it fulfilling, but every once in a while calls to vent about the administration, the department, the students, and the other bullshit. This evening, after a long and depressing tale about the stupid administrators who apparently are in total control of her college, she began sharing amusing first lines of student papers. It's a guilty pleasure, to be sure. There were several howlers, including a quite graphic sentence about Aristotle and strippers (apparently Aristotle got into pony-play later in his life, but that;s another matter). But none of those mentioned tonight comes close to one I heard many, many years ago:

In this paper, I will argue that the mind is identical to the body, but not the other way around.

Simple. Beautiful. Classic.

47 comments:

PA said...

First line of a paper on abortion:
"People have been having children for many generations."

Anonymous said...

"Descartes believed that cripples and retards don't have souls."

NameLevelPhilosopher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
OklahomaExile said...

My favorite was a trifecta, a hat trick of bad writing. A "since the beginning of time," a dictionary definition, and a rhetorical question as sentences one, two, and three. I put down my red pen and got a stiff(er) drink after reading that one.

Anonymous said...

"Morals always come from previous generations, but this cannot be the case. This is overlooked by many people when they talk about ethics."

KTF said...

"In Hume's great novel, 'A Treatise of Human Nature,...'"

Anonymous said...

"Utilitarianism is the view that the right action is the one that produces the most pressure"

From an exam.

Anonymous said...

"Utilitarianism is the view that the right action is the one that produces the most pressure"

From an exam.

Anonymous said...

Aristotle got into pony-play? Way to bury the lede Spiros.

Anonymous said...

This is from a paper I referreed for a top philosophy of science journal, on Hume's 'child-burning-hand' thought experiment:

"That very child might soon come across a bong fire and, though he has never had the experience of pain from a bong fire or the experience of a bong fire at all, he might deduce from his prior hypothesis that the flame of a bong fire causes pain if touched"

Stay away from the bong fire, kids.

Anonymous said...

It's like, maybe there are no causes, and one thing just happens and, like, another one happens...

Whooooaaaaa.

The Brooks Blog said...

A classic line, indeed. I am intrigued on how the rest worked...

I am reminded of an exam in philosophy of religion about an apple, claiming:

"[. . .] If the apple knew where to be placed [e.g., in the doorway of the only existing object in California after a catastrophic earthquake], then the Apple is All-Knowing. If the Apple was powerful enough to keep the door frame from crashing down, then the Apple is All-Powerful. If the Apple is All-Knowing and All-Powerful, THEN THE APPLE IS GOD.

Have a great summer."

Gorgeous.

Tim O'Keefe said...

Folks interested in Aristotle's (sadly, apocryphal) pony-play can look here.

Anonymous said...

In a paper against same sex marriage, I had a student write, "To a Christian, sex is between two couples."

I also once had a student who was convinced that "Since before the beginning of time, man has wondered whether Descartes's dream argument was sound."

A colleague once showed me a student paper claiming "Life begins at contraception."

Anonymous said...

From Intro to Ethics course exam:

"An abort is killing of a small person; euthanasia is killing of a big person."

field linguist said...

Replace "is identical to" with
"supervenes on" and you get a widely held view. Not that I recommend charitible interpretation where student papers are concerned. That we can grade papers at all shows Davidson was wrong about radical interpretation.

One of my faves on this very topic:

Nagel’s objection to physicalism is that someone could know about “cats” without seeing a “cat”.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone notice this gem at the beginning of the press release for the grant Al Mele got from the Templeton Foundation (http://www.fsu.com/News/Do-we-have-free-will-FSU-philosopher-awarded-4.4M-grant-to-find-out)?

"Since the beginning of time, philosophers, scientists and theologians have sought to find out whether human beings have free will or whether other forces are at work to control our actions, decisions and choices."

Robert Lane said...

In two different papers on euthanasia (same class, same semester): "Jack was dying in the cancer ward with a melodrama in his stomach." And "Life is a fist from God."

Anonymous said...

(Roughly from memory, from a friend in grad school's grading) "Despite what Plato taught, people are not in fact generally born in caves."

Anonymous said...

""Despite what Plato taught, people are not in fact generally born in caves.""

That's brilliant.

I have a bunch of the "From the beginning of time..." papers, my favorite being, "From the beginning of time, philosophers have argued about abortion"

In grad school, we eavesdropped while one of our professors explained to an undergraduate why he was failing:
Prof: You spell color with a 'u'
Student: I did?
Prof: You used the word 'betwixt'
Student: I did? (Sounding slightly more defeated)
Prof: You copied the passage on the missing shade of blue to hand in as your paper on the missing shade of blue.
Student: I did? (Sounding ever slightly more defeated)

One of my favorites: Student defends hunting on these grounds that, "the amount of pleasure I would derive from shooting a deer vastly outweighs the amount of suffering it would endure from being shot."

Oh, and I can't tell you how many times I get papers arguing that Thomson's violinist argument fails to show that a woman sometimes has the right to abort because women choose to have sex. ('With the rapist?', I ask. Sounds like something from The Life of Brian.)

Anonymous said...

sometimes these kinds of lists make the proffie who put the item there look like the dumbass.

exhibit a:

"the amount of pleasure I would derive from shooting a deer vastly outweighs the amount of suffering it would endure from being shot."

Now why is that a howler? And why is a favorite? Is it that utilitarianism is obviously false? As in, "you won't believe this, one my students is a UTILITARIAN, bwhaahahahahah. ! dumbass!!11!!1!1!"

Or is it that he doesn't really enjoy hunting? "You won't believe this, one of my students thinks he enjoys HUNTING bwahahahahaha!111!!"

Or is it a howler because this kid thinks he can weigh the pleasures he derives from an action against the suffering had on the other end? Notice of course that this is just another way of thinking that utilitarianism (one version of it anyway) is outrageous. "Bwhahahaha dumbasss pleasure measureres!!1!!!11"

Or is it that it is just obviously false that the pleasure gained from hunting could outweigh bambi's pain? Might be false but it ain't obvious. And it certainly ain't obvious enough to warrant putting the line on the same list as the cartesian view of cripples and retards.

Side note: Will palin now demand that descartes be fired?

Anonymous said...

I suspect that you missed the 'dumbass proffie''s point. Think again.

Anonymous said...

"Since the dawn of time, man has wondered whether computers can think."

(graded by a colleague in grad school)

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Thompson's violinist argument was supposed to show that a woman could have an abortion in all cases in which she didn't choose to become pregnant (precisely because she didn't choose to become pregnant)? In which case, perhaps the students are arguing contra Thompson that abortion is impermissible in those cases in which she chose to have sex (knowing it might cause pregnancy)? You may disagree, but it's certainly not a silly argument. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding you.

Anonymous said...

All time favorite lead-in (the Blade Runner topic was intended to be the "fun" one):

"After watching Blade Runner, I realized it was very in depth and required too much thinking for me to understand what was going on and what the concept was. So instead, I chose to write about John Stuart Mill and his Greatest Happiness Principle and the Harm Principle."

Anonymous said...

"Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Thompson's violinist argument was supposed to show that a woman could have an abortion in all cases in which she didn't choose to become pregnant (precisely because she didn't choose to become pregnant)?"

I don't think the violinist argument is supposed to be taken that way. I think all it's supposed to show is that abortions are sometimes permissible even if we assume the fetus has rights.

The 'people seeds' argument would probably be a closer fit.

Mostly Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:32 and/or 2:33,

I also don't get the utilitarianism joke. Is it something about the inductive basis of the argument? I know jokes aren't as funny when you have to explain them, but ... I would appreciate a little help on this one.

Mostly Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I really appreciated a student of mine referring to Hume as an evolutionary psychologist.

Paul Gowder said...

I'm pretty sure life is a fist from god.

Also, I want to know what kind of rec the bong fire paper got.

Anonymous said...

The question on an exam was: Does the existence of AI provide support for view view that humans are purely physical?

One of the essays started out as follows:
"Since the invention of the Nintendo game controller in the 1980's, scientists have been increasingly worried that computers will take over the world..."

The same student appealed to John Searle's famous "Chinese Broom Argument" to answer the question. (The example involved the manipulation of a broom.)

Fisticuffs said...

The "most entertaining student sentences" thread in the discussion fora of the Chronicle is a great way to waste a few minutes.

Life may well be a fist from God, but my university's Career Services center insists that "having an internship the key to getting your fist job after graduation." Maybe it's a typo -- a painful, perverted typo -- but on the other hand, maybe those folks are savvier than I give them credit for: jobs are scarce in this economy, and the sexual services industry is said to be recession-proof.

Anonymous said...

""the amount of pleasure I would derive from shooting a deer vastly outweighs the amount of suffering it would endure from being shot.""

There's something perversely funny about a girl handing in the paper where the argument is simply: I really, really, really like to shoot things so John Stuart Mill says that's what I should do. Bullet in the stomach is bad, no doubt, but it doesn't compare to the pleasure derived from putting it there. [I'll bracket the point that utilitarianism doesn't say if S1 derives more pleasure from A-ing than S2 suffers as a result, it tells S1 to A. It's a function of the value of the options available to S1 and it hardly follows from this fact (which is just obviously not a fact) about pleasure derived and pain caused that the option that consists of shooting a deer is optimific.]

As for Thomson and the violinist, here's a passage that is suggestive:

"In this case, of course, you were kidnapped, you didn't volunteer for the operation that plugged the violinist into your kidneys. Can those who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape? Certainly. They can say that persons have a right to life only if they didn't come into existence because of rape; or they can say that all persons have a right to life, but that some have less of a right to life than others, in particular, that those who came into existence because of rape have less. But these statements have a rather unpleasant sound. Surely the question of whether you have a right to life at all, or how much of it you have, shouldn't turn on the question of whether or not you are a product of a rape. And in fact the people who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned do not make this distinction, and hence do not make an exception in case of rape.

Nor do they make an exception for a case in which the mother has to spend the nine months of her pregnancy in bed. They would agree that would be a great pity, and hard on the mother; but all the same, all persons have a right to life, the fetus is a person, and so on. I suspect, in fact, that they would not make an exception for a case in which, miraculously enough, the pregnancy went on for nine years, or even the rest of the mother's life."

As for the paper, the student just missed that Thomson was using the example to show that the extreme view didn't hold up and that at the very least an exception in the case of rape would be consistent with the assumption that the fetus is a person with the same sorts of rights that persons have. At any rate, arguing that her example fails to show that _sometimes_ women have the right to abort would mean that she failed to show that a woman has the right to abort in the case of rape. The claim was that her violinist case failed because women choose to have sex. Which is true. Sometimes. Rarely in the case of rape, however. Which is what the violinist case was originally intended to cover. Fwiw. Sorry, this is something stressed in lecture so maybe you had to be there for it to be funny. Or, maybe not. Students don't think the F is funny.

Tim O'Keefe said...

Not a direct quotation, but a paraphrase a friend related to me:

"The preSocratics were pretty primitive and unsystematic thinkers. This is shown by the fact that they wrote in fragments."

Anonymous said...

My favorite: "John Stuart Mill was an indispensable English philosopher." That's just cute.

Also I liked the email in which I was asked for an "extinction."

I'm a philosopher, so I can't help giving my two cents on the Thomson question. I think the students are getting at something important, not missing something (though I didn't read the papers, so maybe I'm all wrong).

Anyway: the violinist case and the Henry Fonda case (in which I need the touch of his hand on my fevered brow in order to live) are supposed to establish that there is no straightforward “right to life” of the kind that the extreme view assumes—that it’s absurd to hold that in any conceivable circumstance, I have a right to WHATEVER I happen to need in order to live.

Once this is admitted, we can then ask whether the circumstance in which I am a fetus and I need to be carried in someone’s body for nine months is a circumstance in which I have the right to what I happen to need to live. The series of people-seed cases is supposed to suggest that I do not—that a woman’s consent to sex has not given me, the fetus, an automatic right to the use of her body should I show up in there. What I need to live is something she may choose to grant me, but she may also decline.

I’ve found, though, that a lot of students disagree with Thomson’s intuitions about the people-seed cases. That is, they accept that there is no straightforward right to life, but they think that if a woman/couple is unwilling to get rid of the “comfy furniture” (i.e. abstain from sex), then they do assume responsibility for any people-seeds (fetuses) that pop up, even if protection was used. They think, in other words, that consensual hetero intercourse is a permission-granting act—that the woman, at least, implicitly agrees to accept the burden of providing a fetus with whatever it needs to live.

For people with this intuition, the violinist case is sort of irrelevant insofar as it is understood to establish that there is no automatic or straightforward right to life. If having consensual intercourse is a WAY of granting a potential fetus the right to whatever it needs to live, then it doesn’t matter one way or the other that there are other situations in which someone might have no right to what they need to live.

Whether that’s ultimately defensible is, of course, debatable. But perhaps that’s what the students are getting at when they argue that the violinist argument fails because women consent to sex.

Or maybe I'm being way too charitable.

Chris Tucker said...

I give students the possible essay topics before hand. Nonetheless, on a Kantian ethics essay question worth 50% of the students grade, the student writes:

"According to Kant, consequences don't mean shit."

That was all. At least he got that much right.

Anonymous said...

"Everybody's always rambling on about Extrastentialism, but I'm pretty sure that I'm the only one in this class who really gets it."

Anonymous said...

My all time favorite: "The question that ponders the wise." I had a pretty funny one last semester, "The statistics are difficult to copulate." LOL!

Anonymous said...

There was once an awesome paper on libertarianism that covered Chisholm's agent-causalism and the awesomeness of making soap and rope from hemp for an intro to philosophy class. I wish there was still a copy of that to post.

Anonymous said...

all you big fancy profs should be ashamed by making fun of your students like this. how are you any better?

Anonymous said...

Who said we were better? You think they don't have a laugh at our expense? You think we can't have a laugh at the expense of an equal or a superior?

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:32. 'Colour' is in fact spelled with a 'u'.

Anonymous said...

"Anon 1:32. 'Colour' is in fact spelled with a 'u'."

Strange, I thought "color" was spelled without a "u."

Maybe both statements are true.

Surely 1:32 was reporting on a Prof. in the US illustrating to a student how she knew that the student had plagiarized.

Anonymous said...

"Bullet in the stomach is bad, no doubt, but it doesn't compare to the pleasure derived from putting it there."

did the kid say she enjoyed shooting deer in the stomach? When I went hunting with deniro up in PA right after that wedding, he taught us to go for the shoulder right behind the neck. One shot.
(An alternative but equally effective method is to put one in the cylinder of a revolver, spin it around and shout "diggy mao!!!" at the deer while your buddies place bets.)

[And I'll bracket the point that the never shoot a deer option generates a lot of unhappy faces for all those folks who love to shoot deer (in the shoulder) and all those folks in the gun industry and palin.]

Anonymous said...

A friend showed me a paper he was grading in which a student was defending abortion by claiming, at the bottom of a page in the paper, that to be considered alive, a being has to be able to see. My friend wrote in the margin, "What about blind people?" On the top of the next page, the student wrote, "I realize this implies that blind people are not alive, but I fully accept that implication." My friend wrote in the margin, "This is the stupidest thing I have ever read."

Anonymous said...

"Since the beginning of time, there has been American history."

Anonymous said...

From a recent submission on Crito:

"In my opinion, Socrates is absolutely right to dismiss the opinions of the majority. The majority of people are uneducated. We should only trust the opinions of the wise man. Wikipedia defines 'wisdom' as..."

Priceless.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:26. Thanks for putting me straight. I am grateful for your explanation.

In other news, irony still dead in the US.

Anonymous said...

"Descarte believed that God existed. Let me exfoliate on the matter."
Graded by me!