Henry Dworkin ’20
Editor’s Note: This article is the first article in the fourth part of a seven part series of opinion articles written by Dr. Erb’s English class for publication in The Oracle. Each article will have a “response” written by another student in the class.
“…And for a moment I thought I loved her. But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires,” thinks Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a book which I’m required to read. After reading this line, I began thinking about rules and what justifies them. After thinking for a great deal of time, I decided that there two general justifications for rules at Woodberry: utility justifications and discipline justifications. What’s more, I support any rule which can be justified by a rational utility justification, and to some extent, and I do not know the extent, any rule which can be justified by a rational discipline justification. However, if there is a rule which can be defended by neither a utility justification nor a discipline justification, it should, and must, be whined about.
The first, less abstract justification, the utility justification, serves some sort of measurable utility value. Juuling harms health and Woodberry values the utility of health, thus Woodberry has a rule against Juuling.
The other, and more abstract, justification surrounds building discipline. At its core, a set of discipline rules requires students to undergo annoyances and unnecessary actions, what others might call grit. It is unclear to what extent the school should have these sorts of rules. For example, having to wear a belt is a discipline rule which I myself testify to being annoying at times, but on the whole seems fairly reasonable. However, suppose there was a rule that whenever an underformer saw a prefect, the underformer must stand still and salute the prefect until they are out of sight. While this rule can be justified under the categorization of discipline, it seems a little much, at least for Woodberry.
Unjustified rules are any rules which fall out of the bounds of utility justification and disciplinary justification. One good example of an unjustified rule, under my own terms, is having to wear black socks in chapel. Black socks serve neither a utility purpose nor a discipline purpose, as it is just as easy to put on white socks as it is to put on black socks. There is no extra grit or determination needed. So why is black socks in chapel a rule? This leads to the third way people justify rules, perceived justification, which I contend to be an invalid way of justifying anything. The justification of perceived societal and cultural standards has no a priori basis in the real world; people’s perceptions can’t serve as any absolute logical premise for any syllogism.
One could argue that perception-based justifications fulfill the utility of human happiness, of making people feel better about the environment they live in by setting up easily reachable cultural standards and asking them to uphold them. People like the feeling of performing a trick successfully and getting rewarded for it. We’re like dogs that way. When justification for a rule is based on fake societal rules, we’re all participating in a great lie, no matter how happy the lie makes people.
Rules should be about caring for people in real ways, not caring for people’s fantasy worlds. Perception isn’t reality. To involve oneself in a perception-based system, by judging people for not following perception-based rules, would be to support the worst form of utilitarianism.
The views expressed in this article do not, in any way, represent the views of the editorial board, our faculty adviser, Mr. Guldin, nor the opinion of The Oracle as a whole.