Any fool can make a rule
Up to now each section of The ethics of belief has followed the one before in a fairly structured way, and I’ve generally known where I wanted to go next, while keeping an eye on the end target.
But I seem to have a case of writer’s block. I know roughly where I want to go, but I suspect it’s going to be a lot rockier than before. Or maybe not so much rocky as immense. So I’m hoping a dose of ‘blogger’s unblocker’ might help.
What I mean is that rather than write the next section all in one go, I think I’ll do it in bits in true blogging style. Then when I get to something that feels like a conclusion I’ll go back and turn the bits into what the next section after Infinite and mysterious obligation needs to be. So here goes.
The best ideas, said Seneca in his Epistles, are common property. So I hope he would have endorsed my next step. This is to take a few big ideas – none of them my own – and glue them together into something else. (The something else may be fairly unoriginal too.)
The first idea is as old as the hills. It is the Golden Rule, found in virtually every major religion. According to Karen Armstrong (see her 2006 New Statesman article Religion: What’s God got to do with it? and her magnificent The great transformation from the same year) it was Confucius (551-479 BC) who first formulated it, in ‘negative form’:
Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself
[Confucius, Analects XV.24, translated by David Hinton]
Half a millennium later the Jewish sage Hillel expressed much the same sentiment:
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.
[Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a]
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
[Matthew 7:12. Bible, New revised standard edition, OUP, 1989]
So if it true that any fool can make a rule (Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862), some impressively wise ones are in our midst.
Kant’s Categorical Imperative has been claimed as a version of the Rule, but it has also been claimed the two are distinct. In fact Kant is said to have thrown his weight behind the body of criticism that the Rule has attracted.
All of which I shall leave for my next post!
© Chris Lawrence 2008