Nonsense, horsefeathers, and idle musings from a decade in South Korea (2002-2012).

04 December, 2012

The Passive Voice is Ugly and Must Be Avoided

By Aaron
04 December, 2012

Over on Facebook, Professors Sarah Skwire and Steven Horwitz have recently been fighting the never-ending war against the passive voice. Together, they offered this clever admonition to their students:

Last week papers were handed in in which the passive voice was used, even though it has been indicated that this is unacceptable. I was not made happy. The passive voice is most often used by government agencies or other bureaucracies who would like to deny or hide responsibility for something. When writing in the passive voice, responsibility for the ideas is deflected and neutered. It has been shown that it is thought by many students that the use of the passive voice produces a more sophisticated or "academic-sounding" paper. The passive voice is often employed to hide a lack of research. The passive voice. It is weak. It is ugly. It is sneaky. It is ineffective. Learn to hate it.


A few minutes after reading of the Skwire-Horwitz Passive Voice Embargo, I happened across the following video, put together by the fine folks over at Learn Liberty. The topic of this particular piece is "Social Justice and Its Critics," and as such, the filmmakers had to define "social justice." Their definition: 

Social Justice: A moral assessment of the way in which wealth, jobs, opportunities and other goods are distributed among different persons or social classes [emphasis mine].

Although the presenter, Professor Matt Zwolinski, does not explicitly address the film's use of the passive voice in that definition of social justice, his critique of the concept speaks directly to the problem of such phrasing. After all, as Zwolinski points out, we must determine who it is that's doing the distributing.

And no, I have not clarified matters if I say that "we all decide - via, say, the democractic process - how we achieve distribution."

Embedded Video: Social Justice and Its Critics 

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