Having Moral Principles

People make ethical decisions every day. Some of them we raise to the status of moral principles. The word “raise” in that sentence is a problem. Why is it a rise to move from action to principle?

We admire people for acting in accordance with principles when the going gets hard. Principles seem to float free of the taint of sin, but they actually don’t. They belong to people, with all the temptations people have. One temptation is to enforce my principles—with all lofty intentions—upon people who have their own dilemmas to deal with. Another is to cherish unduly the ideas we learned in our formative youth. Today we have neighbors who seem stuck in some previous decade, whose insights no longer serve us very well.

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