Situationalism and Principles (was Re: Heston Speech)

From: zeb haradon (
Date: Sun Feb 25 2001 - 14:01:07 MST

In the debate about judging each individual situation, versus applying a set
of principles to every, I think everyone is making a mistake about what
these two things mean. They're really the same thing.
When presented with a new situation, you have to apply principles to see how
to deal with it. Even if those principles are made up on the spot. Even if
the principle is "I will flip a coin to decide" or "I will act impulsively
and do whatever comes most naturally". Even nihilism is a set of principles.
Suppose you hold the principle that theft is wrong. Then, you find yourself
starving and walking past an apple orchard. You sneak over the fence, and
take an apple. Have you set principles aside, in favor of judging the
individual situation? To even put it this way would show that you don't
understand the structure of decision making. You have applied principles
here and acted on them. The principles may be that hunger overrides all
other principles, or that survival is the most important thing. A principles
used here might have also been that it is only wrong to steal that which is
highly valued (if you'd stole the apple from a starving person with only one
apple, it would have violated these principles, but a farmer with millions
of apples would be ok). Or, maybe the principle was that it's only wrong to
steal if you're going to get caught. These principles may have been revised
on the spot from your original principle about theft, but my overall point
is that these lower-level considerations which go into "judging each
situation individually" ARE principles.

Zeb Haradon (
My personal webpage:
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"What is this, some Three Stooges episode where everyone is armed with pies?
  Bill Gates is supposed to walk through the airport with an armful of pies
so that he can stoop to the level of his attackers?" -Chris Russo

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