Right and Wrong

One of the bugaboos of practice is the difference between right and wrong. I say “bugaboo,” because although virtuous behavior is very important to practice, there is no right that can be stated. There is no wrong that can be stated.

This is because only a living mind can know what is right and what is wrong: it takes judgment to know the difference. I could write down some rules about right and wrong, and they might approximate right and wrong in some sense, but if you were to follow them slavishly, they would lead you to do wrong when they tell you that it's right, because they are just rules and have no judgment. And they would lead you to avoid doing right when you should in some cases, because they are just rules and have no judgment.

Knowing what is truly right and wrong requires omniscience, which none of us have. So always when you try to act rightly, or to not act wrongly, you are guessing, based on your best judgment, and it may turn out that you were wrong. It's not your job to know for sure what is right and what is wrong. It's your job to do your best with the information and abilities that you have.

One of the ways in which we most eagerly torture ourselves is by imagining that we have the power to truly tell right from wrong, and then beating ourselves up when despite our best intentions, things don’t turn out well. If you can let go of this belief, if you can convince yourself that you really can’t tell right from wrong, then things get a lot better. They get better not only for you, but for the rest of us.

Just to carry this a bit farther, one of the things that we sometimes imagine is that a system of rules can produce a just society. It’s not that rules and principles are bad. But they are only as good as the people who practice them.

WorldviewTed Lemon3 Comments