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June 10, 2019 / Congau

Unruly Ethics

A good man breaks the rules. For him there are no rules, in fact. Be good, he tells himself, don’t hurt others and don’t hurt yourself. That is all he can say. It is simple and so incredibly difficult.

The lazy man follows the rules. He finds it easy and he thinks he is good. He doesn’t have to work and he doesn’t have to think. There’s no need for reflection, no weighing back and forth, no room for doubt and no regret. He is proud of himself. He is not a good man.

Rules can be helpful. We are only human and can’t foresee all the consequences of our actions. It’s impossible to consider every single step we take and examine every minor move. Rules of thumb are necessary to avoid exhausting ourselves on trivialities and general guidelines are useful because they are generally right. But that’s all they are: generalities. They provide no excuse for not thinking, for sometimes they may go terribly wrong.

Generally, thou shalt not bear false witness, but if your friend is pursued by a mad murderer, you should definitely lie about his whereabouts.

Generally, thou shalt not steal, but don’t hesitate to take a piece of bread if that could save a life.

Generally, you should follow the law of your land, but sometimes the law is bad and tries to make you act unethically. Then resist! Disobey!

A rule can never free you from personal responsibility. Every action is unique because ever circumstance is different. What was once the right thing to do may be wrong another time.

Justice is blind, but an ethical being needs a sharp vision. The blindfolded stony lady with her dreadful scales can sacrifice persons for impersonal laws, but we, real human beings, are doomed to be human. For us there exists no exact measuring tool. We can only do our best and we will fail, for our best is never good enough.

A moral being is conscious of his shortcomings and he knows his guilt. A rule abiding being is happily unaware of the mischief he causes for he thinks it is not his doing. He imagines he is a good person when acting like a machine and not a person.

Since we can always do better, we are always more or less guilty, but to our relief the opposite is also true: We are always more or less innocent.

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