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Thread: Principles

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    Principles

    When we talk about someone that has principles, what are we saying? I'm especially concerned about frequency of deviation. There's a way I view things that I think differs sharply from how others might. Let me give you an example. Take a person that has lied. Most people would call that person a liar. I wouldn't. Most people would say that because he has lied, he is therefore a liar. I disagree with that. I don't think a person is a liar just because a person has lied. Strange huh. Let me give another example. Consider a person who has stolen something. A thief, right? Nope, not necessarily. To me, it takes something else before I'll label a person as a thief for stealing or a liar for lying.

    Because of that, I may tend to say that a person has and lives by principles despite what might appear as clear and obvious evidence to the contrary. So why then; why don't I call a liar a liar or a thief a thief? That's just it though, I would and do; it's just that I actually don't think a person is in fact a liar just because a person has once lied or a thief because he has once stolen. So, again, what's going on in my head? Well, again, there is a missing necessary condition that (to me) must be present before i'll judge a person to be a liar or thief.

    It has to do with frequency. How often there is an occurance.

    The single occurance is enough for you and others, but with me, there needs to be a readily recognizable pattern of repeated behavior. Lying twice or stealing twice is insufficient, and to me, an extremist you are if you lump someone who has lied twice in with someone who lies or steals pervasively. If it's not apart of their character, then it seems to me to be a bit harsh of a standard bar to hold people to.

    The problem (or glaring problem) is that to be consistent, I'd have to deny that a person is a murderer unless he has murdered more than once or twice. I have a strong suspicion that denying that a person is a rapist just because he's only raped once or twice is a claim that no person in their right mind is going to accept.

    So then, fine, if we take the extreme approach and I follow suit in thought, then I'm left with saying some mighty strange things when at the other end of the spectrum. For instance, I find it ludicrous to call a person a carpenter just because he has nailed a single nail.

    No, he's not a math teacher. He's a history teacher. He's taught history for 20 years and substituted in a math class for just one day, so no, call him a math teacher if you want to just because of a single one time indiscretion, but to me, no, he's a history teacher.

    No, the guy on the stage is not a magician. It's his second magic trick in 45 years. He's a painter. It just happens that he helped out once 20 years ago and is doing it again today. So, my position is that he's a painter who has performed two magic tricks in his life, but the extremists among us would have me think he's a magician.

    This brings us full circle and to the topic at hand; just how strict are we supposed to be before we deny that a person has any principles? I think an habitual liar is clearly a liar. Heck, even if there is no habit to it yet it's an often occurance, he's still a liar.

    I just in my mind see such a stark and contrasting difference between a person who lives by no care or concern for his transgressions and lies and steals at will versus a person who has consistently made the right decisions over and over with extremely few exceptions.

    The message I could others articulating is that there are no principles when there are exceptions. My question is quite bluntly, is that true? Are we taking the stance that is so hardcore that once a liar always a liar? With that twisted and completely asinine logic, who the hell is alive today that has principles? Sorry sir, we can't include him, he lied when he was three.

    Do we not now see what I mean by frequency of deviation? Must the sum of a transgression be zero on the nose? Over that and despite the frequency, conclusion: we're looking in the eyes of someone with no principles?

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    I think I get what you are saying, but what I see from your examples is quite different.

    Stealing, lying, even killing in order to call a person burglar, liar or killer, I might check his intentions.

    I don't want to include religion here, but the example comes from it.

    There is a biblical character called Moses. This individual saw an Egyptian abusing the Israelite slaves and going in their defense he killed the Egyptian. No place in that book this killing is taken as such because if the narration is correct, this individual Moses didn't plan the killing, he just acted in defense of someone.

    I won't call him a killer even if the facts prove that he killed another human being.

    No matter of the value of the item or the level of a violation or the consequences of doing harm against someone.

    To me what should decide if the person is a liar, a burglar or a killer is his/her intentions at that moment.

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    Consider a woman who never lies. She lives by some principle that she adheres to such that she never lies. One might call her a woman of principles, so even in times where lying might benefit her, she chooses not to lie. This goes from little things to even big things, but one day, she made an agonizing choice to lie. She did so of her own free will, and she did so intentionally knowing that it went against everything she ever stood for. She lied.

    That being said, one might quip, "so much for her principles; she is a liar." Ought we agree? I think not. It's not apart of who she is as a person. It is with great pains that she lied, and because it's not apart of her character of being the kind of person who will lie just because it suits her interest, she is therefore not a liar but merely a person who has lied.

    What then is a liar if not a person who has lied? It's a person who generally lies. Thus, extreme few isolated exceptions is an important aspect of a person with principles. In other words, we can rightfully say that a person does live by principles despite the rare exception. I have this notion, however, that others lump such people in with those that depart regularly from idealized principles.

    A person that rarely lies but rather tells the truth even when it's hurts to not lie is markedly different than a person who lies without care or concern.

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    You remind me a Chinese teaching about lies. It is very similar to your thoughts.

    It is about children in a household who never experienced what danger is. They were taught a kind of education from their parents to never be afraid and take things around without the idea those can be harmful.

    One day, the parents went away but forgot to extinguish the fire in the kitchen area, which was separated from the rest of the house. The children were told to secure the door and not open it until they came back home.

    The kitchen went on fire and was reaching the rest of the house.

    The neighbors started to scream loud to the children in order to escape from a sure death by fire. But the children didn't understand the warnings because they ignored what danger was and saw no threat even when they felt the house was getting warmer in the side colliding the kitchen.

    The wise man of the town ordered the rest to keep silence. He knew about the way the children were educated. With calm voice told the children that their parents told him to give them candy and other delicious snacks, but the children must have to come out of the house.

    The wise man didn't have any candy with him, but simulated it taking his hands into a cloth bag.

    The children felt the temptation for the delicious snacks the old man was offering, they opened the door and came out. The children were saved thanks to a lie.

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    You've given two stories, one of a man who has killed we might otherwise be better off not describing as a killer and one of a man who has lied we might otherwise be better off not describing as a liar. Yet, one has killed and one has lied. Like an officer protecting an innocent, we won't describe thee who has killed as a murderer, but not as a killer? Why not? The greater good of thee who lied was that children were saved, so immoral he was not, just as who killed was justified.

    In both instances, we need not deny the wrongs committed. All we need to do is show that a cost benefit analysis shows the good far exceeded the bad such that the net good was so great that it would be remiss to judge the acts as morally inferior. Like you said, just look at the intentions.

    That being said, what do you call a person who never stole a dime whether opportunity arose or not. Never told a lie. Refused to tell a lie and refused to steal. Then, one day masterminds a great heist stealing a fortune and in the interim tells a many of a lie. No higher moral intent. No justification. Stole, he did. Lie, he did.

    I'm not looking to weisel out of the label in virtue of some greater good. It's bonefied theft and dishonesty with no moral escape. I'm saying a full time thief is a thief, and I'm saying a part time thief is a thief. However, im saying a one-time crook is no crook at all. A person who does janatorial work for just a day is no janator. Working on a math problem makes not he a mathematician. Join the Boy Scouts and quit after a day; he's no Boy Scout.

    Maybe I'm mistaken. Let's say I am. What does this say about principles? What's it like to have principles? Does a mistake make a difference? "Mistake" is euphemism. Does an intentional transgression destroy principlehood? Does the person who has done good all his life now render him bad after a single faulter?

    All in all, I'm curious as to just how strict the straight and narrow must be to declare it true that someone has principles.

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    You overthink this.
    A X is a person about whom it matters that he is an X.

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Juma View Post
    You overthink this.
    A X is a person about whom it matters that he is an X.
    Well, let's not be hasty. Is he in the habit of overthinking things, or is this a one-off example of overthinking, that standing on its own shouldn't be taken as evidence that he is an overthinker? If he overthinks this just once, is it reasonable to declare him an overthinker on that basis? Or does that require a more persistent pattern of overthinking?

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    I like this question, and at this time I can't think of a consistent 'rule' that allows me to say that someone who lies only once is not a liar but also allows me to say that someone who murders only once is a murderer.


    I suspect it's got something to do with informal linguistic conventions rather than a 'rule' but it is puzzling nonetheless and I hadn't thought about it before so now it's exercising my brain.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    I like this question, and at this time I can't think of a consistent 'rule' that allows me to say that someone who lies only once is not a liar but also allows me to say that someone who murders only once is a murderer.


    I suspect it's got something to do with informal linguistic conventions rather than a 'rule' but it is puzzling nonetheless and I hadn't thought about it before so now it's exercising my brain.
    I gave you the rule.

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    As free agents we are not the slave to any rule.

    All decisions should be made by circumstance, not rule.

    No movie or novel is honest. Honesty does not make for good entertainment.

    In terms of what other people deserve?

    They deserve honesty under some circumstances and dishonesty under others.

    Inflexible rules are for robots and are unfit for humans.

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