“Is this the right practice?”

by Benjamin Ong

“Is this the right practice?”

1. I heard this gem of a sentence a few years ago, and since then its significance has made itself clearer to me each time I see it, especially now that I have put it up on my wall.

2. For, in the first place, it implies that there is only one right practice; although there may be more than one, the sentence compels one to question whether ambiguity is always a difficult reality of life or whether it is instead merely illusory. In general, in evaluating for correctness, too often is the need to strike a balance between ostensibly competing factors cited, as though it is always a neat way to conclude an argument by invoking a clever synthesis that a clever synthesis is required; this rests on the fallacious assumption that a multiplicity of factors automatically leads to the need for a balancing exercise, when in fact there may well be principled reasons that demand that certain classes of factor must automatically override others.

3. And, second, it emphasises practices, not principles. For, while results do not necessarily justify acts, acts alone can never justify results. The focus on practices ensures that there is a rational nexus between ideas and reality. Note, too, that the focus is on practices and not acts: for every wilful act should be nothing less than a manifestation of a discipline.

4. And, finally, because the referent of “this” need not be a practice per se, but rather a state of affairs, the sentence emphasises the role of human agency in shaping events. It militates against the denial of responsibility.

5. Let us all, then, constantly take up this call to procedural propriety.

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