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A thought inspired by Monday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 83

A thought inspired by Monday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 83

Rules, orders, freedom and fairness.

This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

When anyone gives us orders, telling us to do something, we often feel like our freedom is being undermined, even our sense of worth as human beings. We learned our first line of defense against such an assault when we were very young; when an adult gives a command, we can always respond with the question: “Why?”

The interaction between the order, the emotions, and the demand for an explanation is worth analyzing.

If the only reason for taking an action is that someone else wants it, because they “said so,” then obeying such an order implies that the other person has higher “worth” than we do, that their desires supersede our own, and we are less free than they are. However, if there is a reason that explains why we should take that action, then the interpersonal element is dissolved and all these reasons for refusing might disappear.

The explanation given for the action must come in the form of a rule. The rule must have a generalized component that applies to more than one person, at more than one time and in a variety of circumstances.

For example, if someone tells us that we must eat an apple, it would not be sufficient to provide a rule that says “Whenever a person is called John Smith, the time is 2:30pm on the 7th of August 2023, at GPS location X, they must eat an apple.” That may have a similar syntax to other rules, but it is missing the generality that might make the difference between an arbitrary order and a grounded reason.

This requirement that externally required actions be dictated by some rule does not settle the questions of justification, freedom, fairness, or equality. The rule itself might be unjustified, arbitrary, unfair, undemocratic, or flawed in some other way. This requirement that rules have generality is a necessary condition for overriding some impulsive, spontaneous desire of our own, but it is not a sufficient condition.

There is not always a clear distinction between arbitrary requirements and general rules. The rule might appear to be general but in practice, we might be the only one, or one of a very small and arbitrary group, that is limited by the rule. It is sometimes worth considering when faced with some onerous requirement whether we are, in fact, being targeted by what only looks like a general rule.

This strategy for reconsidering any requirement need not be limited to direct orders. Sometimes the targeting can have a more subtle dimension, leaving us with a feeling that our life is scripted by others, even if no explicit orders were given. Whenever we make a decision, we should always ask who, really, is making the decision.

submitted by /u/eliyah23rd
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