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OnSupererogation

Sometimes people do more than is asked of them, more than anyone could reasonably expect. Conscientious artisans take extra care in performing their craft, even on things that aren't observable and that don't matter functionally, like putting a beautiful finish on hidden internal components of a mechanism. On occasion these little touches ("going the extra mile") turn out to be of extraordinary value --- as any programmer knows who has tried to do maintenance on old code. Comments and documentation beyond the call of duty are more precious than gold in understanding what one's predecessor was doing.

Such boons to others, and to the future, are called "supererogatory". Simple kindness is supererogation. So is charity, particularly the anonymous sort. (Many parents, in retrospect, are prime examples; children rarely recognize it at the time.) Sharing ideas, offering a sympathetic ear to someone with a problem, and doing the honorable thing when it hurts are all supererogatory. Nobody can demand that a person do these; it's perfectly legal to say "No!". But going beyond what's required is a partial payment we can make to our predecessors who did so, and who thereby helped us get where we are today. And giving a little gift is a big step toward becoming a mature adult, a contributor to the world and its improvement.

Saturday, December 18, 1999 at 18:45:34 (EST) = Datetag19991218

TopicPhilosophy


(correlates: Underappreciated Ideas, MusicalValues, AcronymOverload, ...)