Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Principles vs Rules

Our societies have (very) many rules. Not knowing these rules (ie, ignorance) is not a legal excuse in court. This legal principle is called ignorantia juris non excusat. Many rules are not monitored for adherence or compliance. Only in case of (legal) disputes, non-adherence or non-compliance becomes important.

Rules can never be watertight. Hence, guilty people may escape on a technicality while innocent people may be convicted due to a missing exception. Principles seem much easier in court. Example: any copyright or trademark dispute is ultimately based upon the principle of thou shalt not steal.

The principles of (amongst others) not giving false testimony, murdering, stealing are ancient (1600-1300 BC) and have been incorporated in the Ten Commandments. Some of these commandments may feel outdated in our hedonistic and secular times. The ones I mentioned are legal cornerstones.

The recent overturning of a 1973 SCOTUS verdict (ie, Roe vs Wade) makes the life of an unborn child more important than the life of a pregnant woman, even in case of medical emergencies. This will result in legal disputes, in which (new) rules will conflict with (ancient) principles (eg, Hippocratic Oath).

Clearly, rules have a habit of becoming political, while principles usually remain universally accepted.

What prevents us from choosing principles over rules? Why do we prefer rules over principles? Do more (detailed) rules cause less focus on (governing) principles? Is finding a loophole in our rules, all that matters to us nowadays?

I suppose that our rule-based society is a consequence of the increasing complexity of our society. I doubt the transfer from principle-based to rule-based relates to either the accusation or the evidence. Perhaps, a principle-based society belongs to a simple society (eg, without money or technology).

Example: the Ten Commandments speak about murdering, not killing. In simple societies, murders may occur more than (accidental) killings. In complex societies, this might well be the reverse. The accountability and/or responsibility for killings, whether or not accidental, is important to the descendants (eg, money).

Notwithstanding the above, our rule-based society is looking like this new set of “commandments”:

The Pleasure Principle (1987) by Janet Jackson
artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-artist, Wiki-song

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless in quotes or stated otherwise.

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