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February 19, 2020 / Congau

Damaged by Principles

Principles may be the aid of reason, but they may also be its destruction. Everyone needs certain principles to facilitate their daily behavior since it would be quite exhausting to have to think through the rationality of every single step they take. We have rules of thumb that guide our conduct and when they get sufficiently important, we may call them principles.

If the principles are based on reason and you can make a convincing argument for why they may be universally valid, they may be worthy of a thinking human, but in many cases, they serve as an excuse for not thinking at all. That especially happens when the principles were acquired at a very young age before one’s rational capacity was fully developed. The child was taught the difference between right and wrong and the grown person later transferred that instruction into strict rules without ever submitting them to the scrutiny of reason.

But also, when there was once reasoning at the bottom of the principles, they may develop into rigid commandments that never need adjustment and provide ready-made answers that cannot be questioned by reason anymore. The person falls in love with his own principles derives his feeling of identity from them. “I am the kind of person who always…” he says proudly.

Principles are a shortcut to perfection and moral virtue, it would seem. Since they are absolute, they are infallible and the man who has them achieves great self-satisfaction. If he were alone in the world he might as well indulge in this narcissism, but he is not, and his principles often become a perfect excuse for not having to be considerate of others.

A principle let you hurt other people while being confident that you’re doing the right thing. It is quite convenient, really.

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