The wiccan rede? Workable? Practical?

I was just reviewing Is using someone else’s wireless network illegal?, and I read the following:

[QUOTE=meI think I see the difficulty here. People see the words “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”, and they immediately start thinking of part of The Wiccan Rede, “An Ye Harm None Do What Ye Will” <snip>[/QUOTE]

Seems to me that this may or may not be a good seed for a G.D. thread. Do people feel that the philosophy of wicca is workable, or a good idea? I believe it is, but I would like to see how other feel on the issue.
Besides, it seems like this forum could use a more abstract thread every once in a while.


I think it is the starting point for a system of ethics, but pepole that claim that it is an ethical system in and of itself are incorrect: it is too limited to be practicable: the world is full of complex problems that do not lend themselves to simple solutions. What about when you have to harm someone? Someone’s in love with you, but you you are not in love with them–rejecting them will cause them pain. Your child needs a painful surgical procedure. You’re being mugged. The Rede in and of itself does not provide any answers to these rather common moral quandries.

Ethics are complicated. There’s a REASON there are books and books and books written about ethics. Being a good person is a complex thing that takes thought, reflection, and wrestling with ambivilance. Any moral system that denies that always strikes me as adolecent.

So someone who says 'Wiccan beliefs start with the Rede"–perfectly valid position. People who say “In Wicca, we just have one commandment, the Rede”–not enough of a guideline to function in a complex world.

The Harm Principle, proposed by J.S. Mill in his essay On Liberty, is as good a bumper-sticker sized moral philsophy as you’re going to get. That being said, it’s woefully inadequate, and certainly no less so in the Wiccan formulation.

I mean, just dealing with harm for the moment, suppose you take it to heart that so long as you do no harm, you should be allowed to do as you like. So now all we need is a good rule for what counts as harm. When you’ve worked that out, for extra credit you can try and fit it on a bumper sticker.

Of course, the mantra only mentions doing harm. It doesn’t deal with whether it’s okay to allow harm. But if you think it’s okay to allow harm to come to others so long as you’re not the one doing it, then I guess that’s not an issue for you.

Let’s move on to some of the other classic normative principles of ethics:

Principle of Personal Benefit – Many see it as a universal principle of ethics that one should acknowledge the extent to which an action benefits oneself. Do you believe that we are under no obligation to admit what’s in it for us?

Principle of Social Benefit – Obviously we will admit to how society benefits from our own actions, but are we obliged to admit any such thing about other people? Our adversaries, even?

Principle of Benevolence – Do you think we should help others? This is not covered under “An ye do no harm, do as ye will.”

Principle of Honesty – Should everybody be free to lie, so long as their lies don’t count as harm by the clear and simple definition you came up with in the above excercise?

Arguably, all of this stuff and more comes out when you unpack the notion of harm, making the rede about as useful an adequate a moral guide as “be good.”

“Do what you want but don’t go hurting nobody” isn’t much of philosophy. To understand Wicca, assuming there isn’t more than one flavor, we’d need a lot more information about their philosophy.

As for that simplistic little saying I don’t think the idea is limited to Wiccans. Certainly a lot of Dopers have expressed the thought that so long as you’re not hurting someone you should be left alone. Even their “three times rule” is echoed by commmon sayings such as “what comes around goes around” or “you reap what you sow.” Both of which I am sure predate Wicca by quite a bit.


It reminds me of Saint Augustine: “Love, and do what you will.”

Bad assumption. Two broad groups in Wicca, with an extensive grey area, and multiple denominations in each. (Not to mention that some people at the less orthodox end are not practicing anything resembling traditional Wicca.)

“Rede” means “advice”. The rede as commonly formulated (and there are different formulations for different denominations; most of them boil down to essentially the popularly known version, by there are enough differences that people in the know can use this as a denominational identifier) is limited to “If it doesn’t hurt anyone, go ahead and do it if you want”.

It explicitly does not provide any advice or guidance about what to do in the vast majority of choices, in which there is some harm in potential no matter what choice one takes. It simply says that if the choice leads to no harm, there is no moral prohibition on doing it.

Now, admittedly, some of the lunatic fringe in the eclectic Wicca end of things try to turn “advice” into “law” and pare the thing down to “Harm none”, to which the traditional Wiccans tend to respond with a variant on, “You’re breathing. That kills microorganisms. Dumbass. You eat, right? Even if you go Jainist-diet, you’re still ripping the leaves off plants and denying fruits the opportunity to germinate. Dumbass. This is why eclectics shouldn’t call themselves Wiccans, they don’t know jack.”

The question of who and what should be included in “none” isn’t obvious, either. That’s not unique to the Wiccan Rede- do the “others” in “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” include animals?

I’d say that’s true of most one-line philosophical guidelines like this one. It’s probably even true of “Don’t be a jerk.”

For that matter, is doing unto others as you would have them do unto you always a good idea?

If I’m feeling stressed out, I love it if someone comes up and gives me a comforting pat on the back or a quick shoulder rub. Someone else would consider this an unwarranted violation of their personal space.

Inside a family or a very culturally homogenous group, one-line rules of behavior may be workable, but in a culturally diverse society, there are too many factors to take into account for them to be a useful guide to life.

Although I like the Augustinian one…

If someone is looking for a religion or spiritiual community which will hand them a quick-n-dirty (or quick-n-kleen for that matter) rulebook so they don’t have to actively engage in any subseque3nt moral assessments of their own, Wicca is not a recommended stop on the possibilities tour.

For all practical purposes we have no clergy (none with authority that more than a sprinkling of us acknowledge as legitimate at any rate) and no Holy Book of Rules. In here you’re expected to develop your own damn code. The rede is sparse for a reason.

Remind me more of Aleister Crowley: “‘Do what thou wilt’ shall be the whole of he law.”

But that doesn’t include or imply the do no harm part.

I’ve always prefered Crowley’s formulation
"Do what you will" shall be the whole of the Law*

  • possibly “wilt”, Crowley was crazy like that, man.
    Seriously, though -

Personally, I feel any moral system that can be expressed in one or a few (say, for example, 10) rules is neither workable nor practical, as it will always come up against humanity’s own excellent ability to mess with rules , sometimes through selfishness, sometimes just because they can.

We are not Asimov’s robots. Our morality needs to be more organic. “Don’t be a jerk” is a nice goal to work towards, but requires a lot of of explanation, and constant revision…like Nugganism, only sane.

That’s the point. The Great Beast was not a nice man. I believe he wrote his formulation as a direct response to Gardner
I see bizzwire beat me, too. I believe that’s my first simulpost. Woohoo!

Hmmmm… Well, it is really longer then just those words, but you are correct in saying it is summed up as those. Here is the link to the full version . I shoulda’ put it in the OP.

Anyway, coulda you humor me, and give me some examples of how people would cheat it, if it was the moral code of the majority?

The Wiccan rede comes up against all the same criticisms of Mill’s Harm Principle.

To start with you might like to think about that constitutes “harm”.

Harm = Pain?

Well… my doctor causes me pain, but it’s for my benefit.

Harm = emotional hurt?

Bad news is bad news - telling someone their parent’s have died will cause emotional pain, but it’s better than not telling them.

Lots of articles online if you search for “critique of harm principle”.

…Or nicked it from Rabelais, serves me right for not researching

Well, firstly, we are very good at making the “It’s for your own good” argument, the one that says we know better than you what constitutes “harm”. That lobotomy? It’s for your own good, so it’s not really harm.

Secondly, with no clear definition of “harm”, and only some crazy Western rewrite of karma as an authoritive system, that leaves us open to all sort of shady areas. I might like pain, f’rex, therefore not seeing it as “harm”. What do you do with him? Or with a culture that sees ripping someone’s heart as a good thing, 'cos he’s going to see the Sun God.

on the expanded version, the way it’s formulated, there’s no internal logic. I mean, who the Hel does it harm if I burn elder wood? Yet there’s a prohibition against it. That’s like not mixing linen and woolen…it’s just a dumb rule.

The Rede only “works” if you believe in the Rule of Threes. I don’t. I believe “some live in Hell, many Bastards succeed”. Often, there is no payback, and many a killer’s died in his bed of old age. Where’s there place in that moral system for a doubter like me?

I’ve always prefered a reformulation of the Golden Rule :
**Do unto other sentients as they would like to have done unto them. **

Well, I believe an awful lot of those people would know full well that they are doing harm. As for the rest, well, a police force would exist. But yeah, your comment about “sentients” does close loopholes. Thank you for the prompt answer.

Kind of forces us to be vegetarians, though.