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.
Socrates: Well met, Polus. I’ve been contemplating something you said the other day and was hoping you could shed some light on the concept.
Polus: Greetings to you, Socrates. I’m sure that I’m in for a rough ride. What concept were you pondering?
Socrates: You proposed that when we evaluate someone’s behavior, whether in a legal or social context, we should consider their intentions along with the outcome. It appears to me that this idea is deeply flawed and that we should altogether abandon this approach. Instead, we should disregard an individual’s intent and agree that the judgment should solely be based on the final outcome of their actions.
Polus: That hardly seems fair, Socrates. All we can do in this world is try our best. We can never predict all the consequences of our decisions, and sometimes we are forgetful or incompetent in executing our plans. The results may not align with our intentions. If someone genuinely intends to help others, tries to fulfill their duty to the best of their ability, and has good intentions, then we should encourage that attitude. We should acknowledge their success and provide compassion if things go wrong.
Socrates: So, if an evil dictator believes that their horrendous policies are in the best long-term interests of their people, you would praise them, Polus?
Polus: First of all, I had in mind regular individuals rather than those operating on a global level. For most of us, our decisions only affect our immediate circle. If each of us strives to do the right thing and follows the strategies that our society collectively agrees upon for the best outcome, then we should not be punished too severely for honest mistakes. Otherwise, people will lose the courage to act correctly for fear of failure.
Socrates: If I understand you correctly, you’re suggesting that we should think small and never attempt to change anything, regardless of how harmful society’s path may be. We should conform solely to accepted beliefs and norms, and nobody would criticize us. You argue that if we judge people for their honest mistakes, they will be more willing to take risks. It seems that the opposite would be true. We would all have to behave like sheep.
Polus: I disagree. We should dream big and envision a better world. We should imagine where we should be heading and not accept the current state of affairs if we believe we are headed towards disaster. However, there’s a distinction between dreams and actions. No one should try to implement their vision single-handedly or impose their conclusions on others by insisting they are right.
If we always remember that we could be wrong, we should explain our arguments to a small group around us. If they agree, we can let them spread the ideas. Change should happen, but it needs to be gradual enough so that we can correct our course if necessary. No matter how bad things are now, we can worsen them with the wrong plan. If we have no choice and changes are happening faster than we can prevent, we must work to ensure they are in the right direction and protect those who may be most affected.