Summary and Analysis Book I: Chapter III - Limitations on the Study of Politics and Ethics


The degree of precision and certainty that can be sought in the study of any subject is dependent on the nature of the particular subject. Some subjects allow more precision in the conclusions to be drawn than do other subjects. The questions of what is noble and what is just (the subjects of politics and ethics) present a good deal of varied opinion and divergence of opinion, and there is a similar fluctuation in discussions on the nature of the good.

In any examination of this subject, one must be satisfied with determining a rough outline of the truth, and must be content with broad, generalized conclusions. We must accept probabilities rather than absolute facts, for ethics is not like geometry or physics. It is the sign of an educated man that in every subject he studies, he seeks only that degree of precision which the nature of the subject permits (e.g., it is absurd to expect logic from a public speaker or probabilities from a mathematician).

It must also be remembered that men are competent judges only of that which they understand. A good judge in a specialized field must be a specialist in that field. A good judge in general is one who has a good general background of knowledge, culture, and experience. Thus, the immature and the young are not equipped to be students of politics and ethics, for they are not experienced in the general business of life which is the basis of these subjects. Also, the immature are easily swayed by emotions and cannot derive benefit from a study whose end is not knowing, but doing. This kind of immaturity is not always due to age; it may also be due to a defect of character present in a man of many years, for it comes about as a result of leading a life made up of undirected and unrelated emotional experiences. On the other hand, those whose approach is directed by reason will benefit greatly from the study of this subject.

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