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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Principle vs. Perspective

One of the things you eventually hear in dealing with people is that they have changed some world view they had regarding right and wrong based on perspective. "I've gained a new perspective on that issue", they might say, or something similar. I have always had a problem with that.

The reason I have a problem with that is because there are really only two possibilities. Either the view of right and wrong they previously held was not based on principle, or they are willing to give up principles based on whatever this new perspective they've "gained" may be.

I quoted "gained" above because I take issue with that word in this context. In the majority of cases where this has occurred in some one's life they haven't really "gained" anything with this new perspective, but often times have taken a step backwards. Let me give an example.

Someone, we'll call him Gentleman A, believes that abortion is wrong. Gentleman A believes that abortion is murder and that there is no difference in aborting a fetus and killing a 2 year-old toddler. Gentlemen A meets a young lady, Ms. B. After a few weeks of dating Gentleman A and Ms. B commit fornication and a new life is the result. Suddenly Gentleman A has "gained" a new perspective on the abortion issue and is no longer strongly opposed to it on moral grounds.

Did Gentleman A really gain anything in this situation? Absolutely not. He might would argue that his setting aside of principle is based on perspective. I'd call what he is practicing as nothing more than situational ethics. He felt abortion was morally wrong, until he found himself in a situation where abortion was the easy way out, and suddenly his perspective changed.

Let me give another example. Gentleman C believes that fetal stem-cell research is a bad idea. He really has no moral principle in which to base this on, it is just a gut feeling; it doesn't feel right. Gentleman C is hit head-on one night by a drunk driver resulting in his being paralyzed from the chest down. Gentleman C suddenly no longer believes that fetal stem-cell research is a bad idea. In fact, he'd argue that he has "gained" new perspective and is now a staunch proponent of fetal stem-cell research.

Gentleman A was willing to set aside principle due to his situation. Gentleman C on the other hand never held to a principle on the given issue, and therefore was swayed to change his opinion based on his situation. Whether or not it is worse to never have held a principle or to be willing to set aside a principle isn't important. What is important is that in either case what these two have done is practiced situational ethics.

"Gaining" perspective that changes one's opinion on moral issues is simply situational ethics. It is changing views in order to suit one's current circumstances. In the two examples above, examples that I have witnessed, either the lack of principle, or the setting aside of principle, led to individuals changing their belief structure from the moral to the immoral. Can that really be calling "gaining" anything?

The truth is we should always have our beliefs rooted in principle. These principles should be based on an objective standard for determining right from wrong, and that objective standard should be what guides our life, our decisions, and our beliefs. This would help prevent us from succumbing to the trap that Gentleman C fell into. We wouldn't be willing to choose the immoral simply because our situation had changed.

Also, we should always hold to those objective standards, or principles. Not doing this is what led Gentleman A to go down the path of immorality. He was willing to set aside the guiding principles in his life because they had become inconvenient to his situation.

This outlook should also apply regardless of what those around choose. The situations of friends and family shouldn't cause us to set aside our principles. This is something that is all too common in our society today. People are staunch advocates of the moral until a family member or friend makes a choice that puts them into certain situations. People are willing to set aside morality because they've allowed their principles to be compromised by a loved one's situation.

In the battle between principle and perspective, principle should always win. Principles based on the one true objective standard for morality should always be principles. Those principles should never be cast aside for convenience, or based on some one's situation. To put it another way, if it was wrong yesterday, then it will be wrong today and tomorrow as well.

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