Aristotle was all for honor and wit and even prudence but he never said do no harm. The most recent exponent of this concise edict was Google. Google may be an object lesson in the difficulty involved.


The difficulty lies in a single word: fallibility. Fallible refers to flaws, self-deception, and making mistakes. It covers errors of all sorts, intentional or not.

Triadic philosophy can live with fallibility. It is better than the binary notion that we are a fallen humanity. That is a characterization which turns fallibility into a necessity.

C.S. Peirce built fallibility into his philosophy. He was particularly hard on science that claimed to be infallible. The reason he embraced fallibility is summed up in one word: evolution.


Peirce saw reality as unfolding and continuous. Fallibility was baked in. Freedom and chance make trial and error inevitable.

Progress is the child of evolution. Slowly and surely, Peirce held, reality moves in the direction of what? Love.

Yes, Peirce the pragmaticist, was convinced by a lifetime in science and a lifetime of unbroken thinking that our destiny is love. By love, he meant the Greek word agape, self-giving, even sacrificial, love. He also believed that logic was something that could be universally understood and mastered.

I suspect that Aristotle either lacked or ignored the universal vision that Peirce possessed. He may simply have assumed the existence of a world of the knowing and privileged and written the rest off. Whatever the reason, his ethics became the province of the privileged.

Tom Paine

A good example of this is the way in which democracy became a code word for progress.

It came by means of those who waged war against the privileged. It came from the pen of men and women like Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine wrote words that impelled immigrants to America to establish self-rule. It was fallible big time. It excluded masses from suffrage.

But the word democracy has become larger and larger over time.

It is no longer evaluated in relation to other forms of government as better or worse. It is understood to be an inevitable means of establishing the functional equality of all who live on our planet.

Harm and good

As fallible people, the test of our freedom is to latch on to continuity and move in the direction of love. Harm is what evil is and eliminating harm is what achieving goodness is about. Ethics is moving toward love.

Evil is what hurts others as a result of conscious decisions. This is why war and violence are not acceptable means of living. They are universally proscribed and should be scratched off the world’s dance card.

Aristotle should have said do no harm. Augustine and Aquinas should have said it. War should never have been accepted as an ethical choice. Nonviolent resistance is the last resort, as it should be.