The Crucial Link
Getting from principles to action

If you know and agree with the principles of a philosophy, is that enough to assure that you will live your life according to that philosophy? Not if life requires action. To be able to apply your philosophy in action, you must know and be able to state the crucial link between principle and action.

A recent issue of The Economist gave instances of American businessmen losing many millions of dollars trying to set up shop in China. Their intention was to profit, but they failed to consider principles needed to make the intention a reality.

Profits are property, and are made by the use of reason. Yet those losers tried to profit where property rights are officially denied and reason is officially denigrated. Because they did not connect profits to principles, they allowed themselves to be bilked by government of even larger sums there than they allow here.

Students who want to be popular sometimes think that principles are expendable. They forget the link: popularity is based on personal value, which requires virtue as defined by the principles of ethics. Seeking popularity without principles invites more ridicule than respect.

That is the fate of all who fail to make the crucial conscious link between philosophic principles and everyday actions. In school, they suffer from what seems a mysterious malevolence. In social life, they pick friends on impulse, and regret the result. At work, they are pragmatic, ignore principles, and end up in trouble. Again and again, they get the impression that reality is rigged against them.

It is.

Reality is rigged in favor of those who can, as Ayn Rand put it, think in principles. Since all things have identity and behave according to their nature, they are linked by common causes. To think in principles is to be conscious of these links: to know and be able to say how every subject of thought is linked to common causes and similarities. You don't think of ice cubes and icebergs as disconnected, and you don't think of production and consumption as disconnected.

If you discuss movies or music, politics or polemics, by saying what you like and dislike and what is right and wrong, but not how these evaluations connect to basic principles, then you will feel disconnected from reality—uncertain of your ground. The link between principles and action is so crucial that without a vividly conscious knowledge of it, even the best of principles will not give certainty. You will be savoring your philosophy, but not applying it.

What if you get the connection wrong? Getting it wrong is inferior to getting it right, but far superior to not getting it at all. When you don't get it at all, you can do nothing about it. When you get it wrong, you can do something. That something will have a result in reality. That result can be used to identify error and start setting it right.

Error is correctable. Ignorance of the crucial link is the first error to correct.

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