What is the purpose of principles and what happens when people don’t follow them? I believe that people who don’t follow principles drown in the complications of whatever issue is at hand and tend to defer their thinking to others and to their own feelings and opinions that are not based on reason.
What exactly is a principle? Merriam-Webster defines it as:
a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption
b (1): a rule or code of conduct (2): habitual devotion to right principles <a man of principle>
c : the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device
Wiktionary defines it as:
- A fundamental assumption.
- A rule used to choose among solutions to a problem.
- (usually plural) Moral rule or aspect.
Various sets of principles apply to different aspects of life, including social interactions, engineering, sports, gaming, etc. Their purpose is to help guide people when making decisions in those areas, especially when they would otherwise be complicated or stressful ones. Unfortunately, it seems that during these moments, people are most tempted to abandon their guide and think they know better. It is true that principles aren’t all known by everyone at all times and must be discovered through the teachings of others, study, reflection, and execution and refinement. However, this doesn’t justify why a person might hold contradictory beliefs when it comes to the initiation of force.
Let’s take a look at what happens when Jan Helfeld asks Reuters reporter Alexandra Goncalves de Oliveira about her principles regarding the redistribution of wealth.
Immediately, she is confused, even after Jan repeats the question. This isn’t damning, but it indicates that she might not spend her spare time thinking about when it is appropriate or not appropriate for people to use force against others. They then lay out a simple scenario to which she says it is wrong for someone to hold a gun to another person’s head and take their money. When Jan tries to extend the idea to another scenario, she falls apart and eventually admits (which is rare, so good for her) that she has contradictory beliefs.
Throughout the interview, she says that the issue is “more complicated,” “not so black and white,” not “clear-cut”, and not “that simple.” Why is it not so simple? How does one determine that it is not so simple? Was the knowledge of its complexity gained empirically or through deduction? Which assumptions and deductive chains were combined to acquire this knowledge? Maybe it is so simple, but she and people who agree with her just don’t want to think about it. I believe people take this “not so simple” approach because they get confused, are intellectually lazy, are trying to shut down your thinking so we can all let the “experts” do the thinking for us, or want to embrace some kind of philosophy where everything that should be falsifiable through critical thinking is only a matter of perspective. Jan has tons more interview clips like this.
Those of us who hold strongly onto our principles of any kind know that they are not chains to restrict our thinking or actions, but instead are means to silence the distortions that attempt to cloud our judgment and prevent us from understanding the truth or succeeding. If people don’t hold true to their principles, they are giving themselves wiggle room to believe or disbelieve in whatever they want. When interacting with these people on the topics of political ideology and economics, even when we disagree with them, we should help them follow through their principles and beliefs until they see that they are untenable and contradictory. Then, we must offer the alternative of non-aggression, liberty, and free markets.