Cogitations from Jacques Barzun

The great difficulty of the moral life is that our knowledge of the right conduct, as embodied in the Decalogue, the Sermon of the Mount, or the Analects of Confucius, is abstract—like the articles of the constitution. The concrete application of the rules cannot help being difficult because we find ourselves in complex situations in which we usually are required to act on the spur of the moment. The Constitution states that a man many not be deprived of property without due process of law. What is “due process”? To answer this there are millions of words defining circumstances which the courts have studied at leisure. A comparable question in ethics cannot be similarly studied and defined to fit every case. For example: should one tell the truth, regardless of consequences? Ask any intelligent, responsible person you know and he or she will say: “It depends. Some consequences should be disregarded. Other not.” Just so.
(God’s Country and Mine)


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