July 6, 2022

"In ancient Greek, kanon, the word for rule, was connected to the usefully straight and tall giant cane plant, which was used to make measurements."

"It’s because of this connection that the word became associated both with laws and with the idea of a model—that with which something is compared, but to which it is not meant to be identical. (No one suggests a ride in a model train.) This association is interesting, because the idea of following a model or paradigm is now seen as distinct from or even counter to following rules. Similarly, the Latin term regula connects both to straight planks used for measuring and building and to a model by which others are measured more metaphorically—the ruler of a nation, say. In that more metaphorical case, the ruler may be the source of rules, and possibly exempt from them; alternatively, the ruler can be exemplary, the ideal by which one determines how one ought to be."

I'm reading "Why Do We Obey Rules? Some last and some don’t, yet we cling to them in times of change" by Rivka Galchen (The New Yorker)(discussing the book "Rules: A Short History of What We Live By" by the historian of science Lorraine Daston).
By the end of Daston’s book, one feels a sense of clarity about how to think about rules.... Rules that leave a ruler, or a judge, in charge of interpreting them feel at once humanized and corruptible. Rules that allow no exception seem free of human frailty but alien, and unable to admit properly of complexity. Despair as a response to the ever-present weakness of laws seems intuitively honest.... 

34 comments:

wendybar said...

In America today, Progressives REFUSE to follow laws such as immigration. Why bother having any laws if they can pick and choose which ones THEY want to enforce?? WHY should WE bother listening to anything they say when this world and this country is upside down right now?? Law and order is dead. Progressives killed it.

tim maguire said...

Rules create a framework of reliability, which is vital for a stable society. Good rules create a framework for fairness, which is vital for human flourishing.

My favorite observations about rules comes from MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he advised his followers that they have a duty to disobey unjust laws, but they also have a duty to accept their punishment because they are protesting particular laws, not the rule of law.

traditionalguy said...

The law based government works by making everything illegal and then making exceptions for ourselves and our friends. Which explains 1776. The colonists wanted to live under British rules (Common Law) but noticed they were not
Being treated as friends of the London rulers.

Ampersand said...

If we devote ourselves to poorly formed problems, we will accomplish little. Daston seems to be addressing a poorly formed problem.

Joe Smith said...

This all sounds like white supremacy bullshit.

Concepts like being on time.

And everyone knows that the ancient Greeks were nothing if not incredibly white...

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Simmilarly the biblical "rod" which then was -- and remains -- a measuring instrument. Four rods [16.5 ft] to a "chain" and 66 chains per mile.

"Spare the rod and spoil the child" [Prov. 13:24] refers to holding standards, NOT corporal punishment.

Temujin said...

Rules, standards are the guidelines by which both we as individuals and as a society at large, can live as our best selves. Rules are not stringent until you go up against them. Then, like a guide rail, they push you back into the space in which you, as an individual or society live your best lives.

We live within the lanes of our lives, staying as best we can, within the rules for a civil society. When we go beyond the standards or rules, civil society takes a hit. When more and more people are going outside of the guidelines and are going outside of those rules established to help us be our best selves, we become our worst selves. It is inevitable. And then our worst selves threatens to becomes the new standard. Though it should not be acceptable by society at large.

Rules can be changed. Rules can be altered or even removed. But there are rules for how to do this. It's called the process. And the process must be followed or the change will not be acceptable by the society at large. When some decide that the rules have an expiration date, or that they simply don't like the rules, there is a process to changing those rules. The process must be followed or there will not be acceptance by the society at large. Sometimes even when the process is followed, the rules are not accepted, but must be followed until and unless the process leads to new rules.

If the society at large ceases to abide by the rules and the process, that society will cease to exist as is. And perhaps that is the end goal here.

rhhardin said...

Kids' games start with no rules and rules are added as they go along.

Baseball has rules calculated to make the game interesting, the distances and difficulties calculated so that action is not too fast to follow but not slow either, and a crisis recurs at first base very often, for example.

Narr said...

In German Kanon(e) means something else. But Bierce defined "cannon" as an instrument used for the rectification of boundaries, so . . .

StephenFearby said...

The rule of ideology (something to chew on):

Unherd
Ideology has poisoned the West
We are living through a dictatorship of ineptitude
By Jacob Howland

'A century has passed since William Butler Yeats sensed the stirrings of a “rough beast” with a gaze “blank and pitiless as the sun”. That beast’s apocalyptic hour has come around again, its rebirth announced by the galloping horsemen of war and pestilence, with what looks to be famine trailing in the dusty distance. It calls itself Legion, but is today better known as Ideology.

The word “ideology” is often used as a synonym for political ideas, a corruption of language that conceals its fundamentally anti-political character. In the ancient republics of Greece and Rome, primary models for English republicanism and the American Founders, politics was understood to be the collective determination of matters of common concern through public debate. As Aristotle taught, politics consists in the citizenly exercise of logos, the uniquely human power of intelligent speech. While voice registers private feelings — think of animal purrs and yelps — speech reveals what is good and bad, just and unjust, binding us together in the imperfect apprehension of realities greater than our individual selves.

But ideology is incapable of treating human beings as participants in a shared life, much less as individuals made in the image of God. Like the party hack whose spectacles struck Orwell as “blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them”, it sees them only as groups to be acted upon. The term idéologie was coined during the French Revolution by Antoine Destutt de Tracy, an anti-clerical materialist philosopher who believed that reason offered a way of uncovering general laws of social relations. Tracy conceived of idéologie as a social science of “ideas” that would inform the construction of a rational progressive society governed by an enlightened elite, whose technical expertise would justify their claim to rule. The illiberalism of this progressive-technocratic ideal became fully apparent in the West only with the onset of Covid. It is now widely understood that the subordination of public life to ostensibly scientific guidance and the effective transfer of sovereignty from the body of citizens to an unelected overclass are fundamentally inconsistent with liberty and individual dignity...'

'...History is littered with examples of malicious ideological experiments, which in good Baconian form observe nature — in this case, human nature — not “free and large”, but “under constraint and vexed… forced out of her natural state, and squeezed and moulded”. What is to my knowledge the first such experiment occurred after the Athenians were starved into submission at the end the Peloponnesian War in 404 BCE, when the Spartans installed an oligarchy known as the Thirty. The regime was led by Plato’s aristocratic cousin Critias, who flattered himself with the thought that he was a greater philosopher, statesman, and poet than his illustrious ancestor Solon. In Plato’s dialogue Charmides, Critias advances a vacuous conception of rule by a “science of sciences” — an ancient prototype of idéologie, which Tracy considered to be a “theory of theories”. According to Lysias, an eyewitness, the Thirty proposed “to purge the city of unjust men, and to turn the rest of the citizens toward virtue and justice” by restoring what they claimed was the ancestral Athenian constitution. The oligarchs proceeded to disenfranchise, disarm, and expel large segments of the population and finally to rob and murder their political opponents, putting to death roughly 1,500 Athenians — perhaps 3% of the citizen body.'

https://unherd.com/2022/07/ideology-has-poisoned-the-west/

Leland said...

Good rules are based on best practice. There is no “law” of gravity, but we understand initially that things fall to the ground unless supported. Then we learn more about what “fall”, “ground”, and “supported” mean that help us “defy the law”, but you defy at the peril that the rule still exists. If you fail to remember and obey the rule, your defiance and ignorance will be catastrophic. But if you know the rules and details, you can safely defy them by using increasingly unusual support to avoid falling.

chickelit said...

Loose canons cannot defend the ship of state.

Michael K said...

"We don't need no stinkin rules !"

Narr said...

Huh. The Greeks too call a cannon a kanon.

When I posted my comment timed 1036, Joe Smith's at 952 was the only other one; now there are several from earlier than that. I'm not sure I've ever noticed the like.

Ernest said...

“Canon” (κανών) in Christian theology refers to those writings deemed to be inspired, and therefore those writings which comprise the Christian Bible. The term, however, with this meaning, is not found until around the fourth century where we start to see the various “books” of the Bible bound into the codex format (e.g., Codex Sinaiticus). But the concept of a standard and authoritative list of writings accepted as divinely-inspired scripture is much older. It can be found in the use of the word “covenant,” which is sometimes referring to the Jewish Scriptures, adopted by the Christians as the Old Testament (and "testament” is another word for “covenant”). Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215) uses the term “new covenant” to refer to the writings that are later called the New Testament (Clement, Strom. 1.44.3; 3.71.3; etc.).

Lem said...

I'm looking for the Insta post Althouse blogged that said laws are like a first good draft, a good suggestion. I can't find it. It's a common theme for me.

mikee said...

My adult son recently told me that a memorable moment of his childhood was going with me to the vet with our dog, and seeing me put two latex gloves in my pocket while we waited in the exam room for the vet. I used them when we got home to get a stool sample from our other dog, for delivery to the vet. The idea that one could help oneself to something useful, without asking, stuck with him. He tells me the concept has enabled him to avoid many pointless arguments with management in his job, as he simply decides what he needs to get a job done, gets it, and moves on with the work. Managers find him a "self starter" who can "work independently" and who needs "minimal supervision" to achieve complex tasks.

He also mentioned the concept of Calvinball as being a guiding force in his behavior. That discussion was much more interesting.

Howard said...

I was taught when I was a kid that being a true blue red-blooded American free market entrepreneur, rules were made to be broken. Boys will be boys. You gotta blow up a lot of rockets if you want to go to Mars.

whiskey said...

This is an interesting excerpt. It reminds me of Aristotle's description of equity in the Ethics. "...[A]ll law is universal but about some things it is not possible to make a universal statement which shall be correct. ... When the law speaks universally, then, and a case arises on it which is not covered by the universal statement, then it is right ... to correct the omission-to say what the legislator himself would have said had he been present, and would have put into his law if he had known. ...And this is the nature of the equitable, a correction of law where it is defective owing to its universality. In fact this is the reason why all things are not determined by law, that about some things it is impossible to lay down a law, so that a decree is needed. For when the thing is indefinite the rule also is indefinite, like the leaden rule used in making the Lesbian moulding; the rule adapts itself to the shape of the stone and is not rigid, and so too the decree is adapted to the facts."

http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.5.v.html

farmgirl said...

Jordan Peterson…
He knows.

stlcdr said...

Is there any mention of religion?

lonejustice said...

I like reading the comments on Althouse Blog.

Today I learned about "Lesbian molding" in a comment quoting Aristotle's Ethics.

I learn something new every day here.

Robert Cook said...

"In America today, Progressives REFUSE to follow laws such as immigration."

Assuming facts not in evidence.

wendybar said...

Robert Cook....I live in New Jersey which made us a Sanctuary State, which now forces people to pay for illegals that we did not ask to come here...and did not get to vote for. Our schools are suffering. Our citizens are getting poorer...all because of laws not being enforced by our Far Left Wing Progressive Governor who killed as many Seniors in Nursing Homes if not more...than Cuomo.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

tim maguire,

MLK got some flak for that statement, which has always seemed to me the true foundation of ethical civil disobedience. I remember Ronald Dworkin (or possibly Laurence Tribe?) writing about conscientious objectors in the Vietnam War that they had no obligation to accept punishment for refusing the draft, not even if their objection wasn't to war as such, only this particular one. MLK definitely got the better of that argument, even though at the time he was long dead.

Re: "Canon": In music, a canon involves one voice strictly imitating another at some interval, generally the unison, but in practice any one will do (cf. the Goldberg Variations!). But actually "canon" just means "follow the rule" -- any rule. So there are canons where you play one part "as is" and the other upside-down and backwards (there's a piece vaguely attributed to Mozart that does this), or one where the rule is "Play this part straight, twice, while the other voice does the same thing half as fast, starting from a different pitch," and so forth. I reviewed a disc by one Vitali (not the one of the spurious "Chaconne," but a great-uncle or something), and got sucked into checking out a different publication of his that was all canons of many and varied kinds.

Conlon Nancarrow wrote mostly for player piano, so could make canons impossible to human instrumentalists' hands (cf. "Canon X," for example), but he did write a few pieces for actual people. One of his string quartets (No. 2?) is all canons. Usually the voices start together and then diverge according to their tempo ratio, but in the last movement the voices start at different times, according to their place in the tempo ratio (I think it was 2:3:5:7 -- the first four primes -- or something like that), and end up all converging at the end on middle C. Spectacular! Though there are very few people capable of playing it. I heard the Arditti Qt. play it live, decades back.

traditionalguy said...

Psalm 1 says it all. Blessed is the man …whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on the law of the Lord day and night.

Marc in Eugene said...

Rivka Galchen should have actually read Saint Benedict's Rule before repeating Professor Daston's use of excerpts from it and (since I guess I'm in the mood to give good advice) should also read Saint Thomas Aquinas on 'law in general' (this is a video from the Thomistic Institute).

Kylos said...

This is a key part of Christianity. Christ humanized the model, coming “not to abolish [the law and the prophets], but to fulfill them” Matthew 5:17. The law is impossible to keep perfectly. That doesn’t mean the standard should be abandoned, but that our relationship with it must acknowledge our weaknesses.

Scott Patton said...

k-anon

Narr said...

I think there should be a tag for "rule of law bullshit." It seems like the same thing to me as civility b.s.--something to be deployed for tactical or strategic advantage by the powerful and duplicitous, while the peasants are fobbed off with noble gas about The Law.

The law school we had was pretty new in the late '70s, and one of my friends was graduating from it. Classic case--the first in his family to go to college etc etc--and he was so proud he invited all his friends and my wife and I went.

The speaker was an old bull of the state bar and judiciary, and gave a longwinded rendition of the old bull: The Law as Mankind's Noblest Undertaking. It was excruciating, and to their credit most of the graduates looked embarrassed.

I am happy to report that my friend has become very rich and successful in his small practice.

Christopher B said...

To riff off tim maguire, Temujin, and a few others, life is a mostly cooperative endeavor. It eases the friction immensely if we have a general understanding of what any one person is either likely or required to do in any given situation. Vehicular travel would be nigh to impossible without a common agreement on which lane travels in which direction.

To take Howard's trolling somewhat seriously for a change, it's still only mostly cooperative. Refusing to break traffic rules to avoid an accident, or even just when no one else will be impacted, benefits no one.

Robert Cook said...

"I live in New Jersey which made us a Sanctuary State, which now forces people to pay for illegals that we did not ask to come here...and did not get to vote for. Our schools are suffering. Our citizens are getting poorer...all because of laws not being enforced by our Far Left Wing Progressive Governor who killed as many Seniors in Nursing Homes if not more...than Cuomo."


"...the Immigrant Trust Directive does not prevent ICE from effectuating an arrest within New Jersey, opening new and expanding current ICE facilities in New Jersey, increasing the number of federal agents assigned to the state, or continuing to expand the worksite inspection program. Also, it does not confer any lawful immigration status."

Rollo said...

Science has been more about laws than rules, hasn't it? Unless today's science has dispensed with them. So I'm not clear about what the author and reviewer have to say about rules. It doesn't seem like a subject for a historian of science.

Rusty said...

wendybar said...
"Robert Cook....I live in New Jersey which made us a Sanctuary State, which now forces people to pay for illegals that we did not ask to come here...and did not get to vote for. Our schools are suffering. Our citizens are getting poorer...all because of laws not being enforced by our Far Left Wing Progressive Governor who killed as many Seniors in Nursing Homes if not more...than Cuomo."

Baron Harkonnen of Illinois?
Illinois is a sanctuary state , Bob. If you can get here all kinds of free goodies await.