Principles are broad abstractions which have been derived from observation of reality, just as scientific principles are derived from reality. It is true, that principles are true--but they are guides to action *within a necessary context*--but not outside of a particular context. You can choose to evade principles, but you must recognize that choosing to do so inculcates certain consequences for doing so. I always like to think of principles thusly, "In denying them, it's not a 'god,' but reality, which will punish you for doing so."
If living is a value, you can take drugs, eat like a sow and not exercise--but doing so will thwart your ability to live. If the material goods you have achieved by your own labor are a value because it was your labor which had to achieve them--then it is within your right to defend your home and family from a robber. If your girlfriend is a value, then it does you no good to treat her with contempt and abuse--but it does benefit you to take the necessary actions to maintain a healthy relationship. However, even if you have treated her well, she's a sovereign individual and if she decides to leave you that is her right and no amount of purposeless wishing will change the reality that she did. To get her back, you can either appeal to her reason and if that doesn't work, there is no other recourse accept the irrational, abduction, which will put you in prison. There are some men with greater ability than others--punishing people with greater ability will not bring anything of value to men of lesser ability--it will only condemn them to not be able to share in what the men of greater ability are able to produce--whether it's in purchasing a product from them or acquiring a job at their factory.
The examples are endless. Actions have consequences within reality. Reality does not change because we wish it to.
Ayn Rand in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal in The Anatomy of Compromise, describes principles as such:
A principle is “a fundamental, primary, or general truth, on which other truths depend.” Thus a principle is an abstraction which subsumes a great number of concretes. It is only by means of principles that one can set one’s long-range goals and evaluate the concrete alternatives of any given moment. It is only principles that enable a man to plan his future and to achieve it.
The present state of our culture may be gauged by the extent to which principles have vanished from public discussion, reducing our cultural atmosphere to the sordid, petty senselessness of a bickering family that haggles over trivial concretes, while betraying all its major values, selling out its future for some spurious advantage of the moment.
To make it more grotesque, that haggling is accompanied by an aura of hysterical self-righteousness, in the form of belligerent assertions that one must compromise with anybody on anything (except on the tenet that one must compromise) and by panicky appeals to “practicality.”
But there is nothing as impractical as a so-called “practical” man. His view of practicality can best be illustrated as follows: if you want to drive from New York to Los Angeles, it is “impractical” and “idealistic” to consult a map and to select the best way to get there; you will get there much faster if you just start out driving at random, turning (or cutting) any corner, taking any road in any direction, following nothing but the mood and the weather of the moment.
The fact is, of course, that by this method you will never get there at all. But while most people do recognize this fact in regard to the course of a journey, they are not so perceptive in regard to the course of their life and of their country.Men, as conceptual beings, think in principle individually all the time. Though some are better at it than others and many people (too many) don't know how to do it at all. A man, in order to survive, must think in principle to sustain his life which, as you know, is the basis for Objectivist ethics.
Macrocosmically, it's necessary to think in principle to sustain a free country; microcosmically, it's necessary to think in principle to sustain your life--and there's a bridge of connection between the macrocosmic and the microcosmic. Man, microcosmically, must think in principle to sustain his life and macrocosmically, he needs a free country within which to do so.
Philosophically, thinking in principle does not mean accepting commandments in the manner of religious faith, but principles are a necessary guide in order for both private and public citizens to know whether they are on the right track or not. And man, is this country not on the right track any longer.
Commandments are irrational in that the application of them negates the context in which they are attempting to be applied. I have always contended that the reason religions across the centuries have broken up into warring factions--from the most tribal shamanic variety to the expansive varieties of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism--is because faith itself is irrational.
We can see these break ups play out in the case of the war-like aggressions of contemporary Islam against its other two largest competitors along with the minor doctrinal disagreements between various sects within the same faith. The reason there are so many kinds and varieties and interpretations within the same types of faith--is because people are individuals, think for themselves, and shun collectivism.
It's impossible for the advocates of faith, in reality, to achieve that which they say they stand for precisely because of the irrationality at the base of their ideas.
Human reason, by the very nature of reason, will always shun the irrational. Organized religions, by their nature, are collectivist. So, what do human beings do when they come across something that doesn't make sense coming from a supposed "authority?" They rebel against the irrational elements, make excuses such as "Well, the Bible really is just a guide" or "That sect of my faith is interpreting this passage this way, but they're clearly wrong--within context it needs to be applied this way" or "Of course the Old Testament was wrong about so many of those things like not eating shell-fish or people of the same sex not sleeping together--the New Testament is what matters" or "I agree with the Pope about this--but not about that."
Well, at one time those things did matter and were to be taken literally. They didn't spring up out of a vacuum. Is the Pope God's mouthpiece or is he not?
Allow me to take, as an example, a couple of the Ten Commandments to illustrate my point:
Thou shall not murder.
Well, who's right? What's the context based upon reality? Did someone initiate force against someone else and was killed in self-defense? Was I walking down the street one day and just randomly decided to fire a gun across the street because I felt like killing someone when I woke up this morning?
Honor thy father and mother.
"Oh yes! Only God can judge others?"
"Really? Why have a court system where we prosecute those who initiate force against others? If only God can judge, it would seem to me that throwing out our judicial system would be the thing to do. Right?"
"Oh, but you can't do that. When I said, 'only god can judge,' I meant in the hereafter...but we need laws here on earth to be able live in a society."
Whether we recognize it or not--only reason can determine the truth based upon an observation of reality.
Human forgiveness can only be applied when or if the person who has done you wrong, is able to see their error and has shown they're aware of their mistake and then, by show of action based upon that understanding, prevent themselves from wronging you in the same way again. Do you see what I'm getting at here?
Commandments obliterate reason by the very nature of them being commandments. Using those two short examples above, I have aptly demonstrated the dangers of dealing with things from a viewpoint of faith. Not only do they steer individuals and societies wrong in regards to maintaining various virtues such as life, property and freedom--but they break apart the minute one iota of reason is applied to them.
Even religion, despite it's best attempts over the centuries, is not able to escape the Law of Identity. Doctrinal break-ups occur because collectivism, whether theocratic or secular, is irrational. The break up of faiths into warring compartments is literally the individual asserting himself against that which is force and irrational. It is the break-down of collectivist ideals precisely because they are anti-nature.
As a final example of the power of principle, I will leave you with the following:
It took centuries of intellectual, philosophical development to achieve political freedom. It was a long struggle, stretching from Aristotle to John Locke to the Founding Fathers. The system they established was not based on unlimited majority but on its opposite: on individual rights, which were not to be alienated by majority vote or minority plotting. The individual was not left at the mercy of his neighbors or his leaders: the Constitutional system of checks and balances was scientifically devised to protect him from both. This was the great American achievement—and if concern for the actual welfare of other nations were our present leaders' motive, this is what we should have been teaching the world. Instead, we are deluding the ignorant and the semi-savage by telling them that no political knowledge is necessary—that our system is only a matter of subjective preference—that any prehistorical form of tribal tyranny, gang rule, and slaughter will do just as well, with our sanction and support. It is thus that we encourage the spectacle of Algerian workers marching through the streets [in the 1962 Civil War] and shouting the demand: "Work, not blood!"—without knowing what great knowledge and virtue are required to achieve it. In the same way, in 1917, the Russian peasants were demanding: "Land and Freedom!" But Lenin and Stalin is what they got. In 1933, the Germans were demanding: "Room to live!" But what they got was Hitler. In 1793, the French were shouting: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!" What they got was Napoleon. In 1776, the Americans were proclaiming "The Rights of Man"—and, led by political philosophers, they achieved it. No revolution, no matter how justified, and no movement, no matter how popular, has ever succeeded without a political philosophy to guide it, to set its direction and goal. The Ayn Rand Column