It's the principle of the matter!

I hate those words. Anyone who defends or argues based on principle and not on what is right or wrong demonstrates inflexibility, intransigence and narrow-mindedness.


Anonymous said…
Corollary (don't know who said it):
"If someone says, 'It's not about the money, it's about the principle', it's about the money."
There, there. Take it easy. Take a deep breath. Calm down.

Everybody is not as gifted with words as you are, Richard. You are very articulate, and we all know how intelligent you are.

Some people might refer to the principle of the matter when they can't explain in words exactly what they mean.

Sometimes I can feel that something is right. I don't have to verbally utter a list of premises and a valid conclusion. It's in my heart. I can feel it.

But then again, maybe this is just a demonstration of my unintelligence.
For me, nothing is black and white...well, very seldom. So I think you have to look at each individual case and the factors that affect it. Sometimes principles are based on right and wrong, so in that case, the principle you talk of would be right. In other cases, the principle may not apply, since the right thing to do in that particular case would be different. Killing is not right...a basic principle of most belief systems....but if it's a batteed woman defending her life and/or children, then I feel it becomes the "new right".

(There many other examples in various shades of gray not a sdramatic as this one.)
Richard said…
anonymous: A corollory to your corollory is: "The man who protests his innocence the loudest is guilty."

man with the fun (I think I am going to start calling you matt again to save myself some typing). It is not a question of being literate, since it tends to be literate people who use that expression more. Less literate people tend to use, "Because I said so!" (Incidentally, not to worry, I was not hot under the collar when I wrote that and nothing had spurred it aside from wanting to get a post out.)

MOI: I think the world is black and white, people just muddle it up and make it grey. I have no problem with principled people, I have a problem with people standing on principle.

For a straw man example, consider a strongly unionized organization with a clear divisions of labour. Suppose you have two classes of workers - supervisory and manual labourer. The manual labourer is digging a hole, the sides collapse in and trap him.

"John! Can you grab a shovel and dig me out!"

“I'll radio for a labourer to come and help you out."

"I can't wait. I'm feeling something sharp digging into my left thigh."

"It's not my job."

"I don't care if it's your job or not! I need help getting out now!"

"I want to help you, but it's the principle of the matter."
b said…
Your last comment poses a good case for your argument. However, right and wrong can be just as subjective and muddled as principle. While I do agree that there are cases in which a clearly universal sense of right and wrong emerge, there are many situations in which the right or wrong thing is not so black and white. But I must agree, the phrase, "it's a matter of principle" really doesn't impress me either!
Yes, I agree that your example is pretty clear cut but there may be just as many that aren't as B&W. I have been taught to be flexible and use my intelligence to adapt the situation to my own moral sense/codes.

I do this in my job all the time. Disciplining children in school is a good example. There is no rule that everyone uses each time without considering the other factors involved. It is still very subjective and I'm glad they usually give us the credit making these calls in an intelligent humanistic way.

As always, Richard, you manage to open a can of worms that would take a lifetime to debate! But you provide good fodder for our brain growth! Keep doing that!
Barbara said…
Unfortunately there a lot of people who would rather fall back on principles than discover they have ideas of their own. I suppose principles are so much easier to defend.
Richard said…
breal I don't deny that personal notions of rightness and wrongness are subject to wide variation. People who use that phrase, are never (at least in any context I have seen or heard) speaking from a moral position.

MOI: I never intend to open a can of worms. For me the issue is simple and clear cut - black and white, you might say.

barbara: The difficulty is that there is some subtle linguistic difference in being a principled person and someone saying, "It is the principle of the thing.".

In English, at least no natively spoken / written English I am familiar with, do we defend moral or ethical actions / choices by saying, "It is the principle of the thing." We will, instead, use moral or emotional terms to defend our position. (I am willing to give non-native speakers the benefit of the doubt, since linguistic usage may be different in their native tongue).

When a person says, "It is the principle of the matter." As far as I am concerned they are not arguing about the morality or ethics of something, they are simply arguing about the letter of the law.

While precision in the use of words is important - it certainly reduces misunderstandings if we all use words in pretty much the same way - it is equally important not to get carried away with the precise meanings and nuances of words, but to understand them in the broader context. And all I'm pointing out is that "It's the principle of the matter" is never used in a moral context, simply a legalistic or power one.

Or ... maybe I need to go and brush up on my understanding of the English language.

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