“You Know the Rules!”

The instructions found in your typical LEGO set are not intended to function as absolute and inviolable commandments but merely as suggestions for possible, and hopefully entertaining, strategies for engaging with the available bricks. Yet, The Man treats these instructions as sacrosanct. He is unwilling to countenance any departure from these rules, even when such departures would clearly better serve the purposes for which LEGO products exist in the first place (such as encouraging children to “just imagine”). The problem, then, is not that The Man follows these rules but that he venerates them in a way that is completely inappropriate with respect to rules of this kind.

I say “rules of this kind” because I do not mean to suggest that it is inappropriate to view any class of rules or instructions as if they were never to be violated. Certainly, a number of philosophers, most notably Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), have maintained that certain central moral principles have such a status. For example, Kant notoriously maintained that the moral prohibition against lying is an absolute one which should never be violated, irrespective of the circumstances. Unsurprisingly, though, this view has proven to be controversial and many other philosophers have maintained that there are certain cases (such as the famous example of lying to a prospective murderer about the location of his intended victim) where lying is not merely permitted but morally required. Still, whether or not we take the status of moral rules, such as the prohibition against lying, to be absolute, most of us can readily perceive an important distinction between moral rules and rules of other kinds. A distinction which, it seems, The Man is unable (or unwilling) to grasp.

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