The quotes I have listed at the bottom of this post are ones that I currently agree with 100%.
The way I explain the importance of principles in my own simplistic way goes something like this: The human survives by use of his wits, by using knowledge of the external world to his benefit. The way our minds operate is to compartmentalize knowledge into categories so that it can be used. This includes concept formation and identification of principles and is necessary because we can only hold a certain amount of information in focus at any one time.
Reality is reality and knowledge is knowledge – these categories exist only in our minds and in reality every object is actually slightly different to all other objects. The categories themselves don’t exist in the external world. eg/ redness itself is not a thing. It’s our concept for the way we perceive light reflecting at about 400 nm. Therefore there’s no reason to think that some of reality and some knowledge adheres to principles and some doesn’t because there’s no actual separations or compartments in reality. All reality and therefore all knowledge of reality is inter-connected. Most people believe principles are fine in the physical sciences (eg/ laws of physics), but not fine in the human sciences (eg/ the rejection of classical economics theory principles). IMO, the burden of proof should be on those who imply that knowledge cannot adhere to theory or principles when we cross over to say ethics or politics. Additionally it certainly seems contradictory to me to claim there are no principles because this statement itself is a principle – just an incorrect one.
“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.”
“The Anatomy of Compromise,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 144.
The insight and bite of Ayn Rand’s writing – that’s the style for me.
Here’s some more gold courtesy of http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/principles.html:
“You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions—or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew. . . .
You might say, as many people do, that it is not easy always to act on abstract principles. No, it is not easy. But how much harder is it, to have to act on them without knowing what they are?”
“Philosophy: Who Needs It,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, 5.
It is possible to get it wrong. I think that I sometimes mis-integrate myself. I make the mistake of looking for connections between various concepts or ideas where none actually exist. This is something quite obvious in people disconected to reality. Schizophrenics do this. Superstitious people do this. Thinking that the position of the moon will affect various events in your life is an integration error. But this doesn’t change the fact that integration is still how our mind operates. When we categorize we are sorting things/events/concepts into compartments. And when we do it right (in accordance with actual reality) and when we identify fundamental principles, we have attained absolute knowledge (within a context of course). eg/ The law of gravity always applies on earth to all objects with mass. Just like the law of supply and demand always applies in economics.