the principal principle of principles
January 27, 2005 Leave a comment
While I’m in angry-rant-mode, I’ll add a postscript:
Similar confusions abound concerning the word principle.
How can you know someone isn’t standing on principle unless you know what their principles are in the first place?
Whether or not they stand on your principles is thoroughly uninteresting.
It’s like minor rock stars talking about major rock stars “selling out”. You can’t know if I’ve sold out until you know what it is I have to sell. I can’t betray your values — only my own. I can violate your values, but of course that’s not the same thing. If I don’t object to my music being used in commercial jingles, then it’s not selling out for me to profit from licensing my songs to ad agencies.
And yet I almost exclusively hear the term ‘unprincipled’ used to mean unethical or immoral.
(Most people I know — and probably the vast majority of people I’ve ever encountered — are unprincipled, by which I do not necessarily mean that they act immorally, only that they do not have a consistently applied set of ethical values. (And to take the distinction one level deeper: having consistent values does not mean you consistently live up to them.))
Being unprincipled means only that (a) you have no ethical values, or (b) your ethics are situational rather than consistent.
I wish people wouldn’t try to deny important distinctions just because they’re too shallow to grasp them.
I will now try to calm down long enough to find my prescription …