Demand principles from yourself before you demand them from others.
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.
There are two approaches to decision-making. You can consider only here and now with a focus on yourself. Call this the singular approach. Alternatively, you can see this moment as one of many moments in time. You make a decision for yourself in the long term and this one moment here and now is just one instance of the entire set of time-instances. Or you can consider yourself as one member of humanity. You make the decision that is right for everybody. You, right now, are just one example of everybody. Call this the principled approach.
The principled approach is more or less what Kant called his Categorical Imperative – but he got very single-valued and absolutist in his conclusions. There is no need to be quite so uptight about it. We do sometimes choose the singular approach, and not much harm comes from that.
A quick classical example. You are in a situation where it would be very expedient for you to lie. However, the principled approach says that there are many situations where it would be easier to lie. Is that the kind of person you want to be? One lie might not make a big difference to who you are (and how you are perceived), but lying as a way of life, will change you into something else, something very nasty. Similarly, if you become a liar, you might improve your personal material situation, but do you want to live in a society where everybody lies, where we can never trust each other?
We all have to live together and we need to live with not just our current self, but with our future self too. So, it’s better for us all to take the principled approach rather than the singular approach. On the other hand, we need to leave some room for the singular approach – it is there and has its place.
So, before you go easy on yourself and forgive the singular approach in your own decision-making, remember to accept that other people are also not only driven by principles. The worst kind of person is one who is easy on themselves and harsh on others.
Demanding principles from others leads to struggle and pain for all. It requires imposing your own choices on others. Ultimately pushing our principles on each other makes us devalue each other.
The best way to go is to keep the demands on other people as low as possible and try to beef up your own principles before expecting them from others.