How many of us can say we really have a solid foundation for our thinking and values as we go out to shape our world by our lives?  Until very recently, I could certainly anwer that question with a humbling and resounding “no.” Now, I can say that I am a discerning work in progress.

This is not to say I didn’t understand the issues that I wrote about and spoke about. In fact, on a lot of issues I’m passionate about, such as Islamic jihad and sharia, abortion, first and second amendment rights, the necessity of universal natural law, and other topics, I was and am quite knowledgeable.

But is that enough? I would say that without a firm understanding of why we think, we will never be able to argue what we think using our full potential.

What are first principles?

first prin·ci·ples


plural noun: first principles; noun: first principle

  1. the fundamental concepts or assumptions on which a theory, system, or method is based.

Though many of us may understand this idea best through the lens of our political beliefs (or, in my case, my recent conviction in my latent religious beliefs), the concept of first principles can theoretically apply to everything we believe.

We all posses, at some level, first principles – but for so many of us, we get lost in secondary arguments and lack an ability to articulate them. This raises another question.

Do we need to explain our first principles to others?

I would argue no – and yes. Firstly, we must be able to articulate our first principles within our own minds. We must know the ground upon which we stand, if we are to effectively debate secondary positions with clarity.

However, we also will often find ourselves in a position where we do have to explain our first principles, especially in dealing with other people. What will you say when someone follows your argument to its logical conclusion, and you realize your own inconsistency? You won’t have an answer. You’ll weaken your argument!

My personal experience with the question of abortion in the case of rape might prove a useful case study.

I am staunchly pro life. I believe all abortion is murder, evil, and wrong. However, until relatively recently, I was still willing to cede a “rape exception” in terms of morality. I wrote about my reasoning for that here.

Though I began to change my mind on this issue several months ago, due to simply a nagging feeling that I was wrong in my thinking, I haven’t yet explained publicly why. And of course, my hesitation makes sense: it’s embarrassing to have to admit I was wrong.

I not only have taken a position that I now disagree with – I have written an article defending my illogical thinking and claiming it as logical.

Understanding my own first principles is what changed my mind.

For me, it was religious principles. Though my logical framework for speaking against abortion – which is largely “secular” – stayed more or less the same, having my religious principles in order made a huge difference in how I would approach the issue on tertiary issues such as the case of rape.

Let’s briefly break this down.

My tertiary principle: Abortion is not permissable in the case of rape, because an unborn child is not responsible for the sins of the man who biologically brought said child into his existence through an act of vile evil.

My secondary principle: Abortion in general is a grave moral wrong. It goes against the biological reality of when life begins. The onus should not be on the unborn to prove their personhood rights, but on the one seeking to remove those rights. The right to life by necessity precedes all other rights.

My first principle: The right to life is entirely and completely sacrosanct, because it is a Natural right, and all Natural rights are endowed to all human beings by their Creator.

Before this, I was stopping at the secondary principle.

I would get so close to being able to state unequivocally that all abortion was unacceptable from both a moral and legal standpoint – but I got caught up in the concept of the right to life and when it would be justifiable to violate it.

Now, I firmly know that my first principle on the right to life is that it is entirely inviolable because it is not a right decided by man, only one articulated by man. It is of God. And I cannot in good conscience allow my own conception of moral ethics supersede that initial truth.

Notice how the tertiary and secondary arguments don’t change? For the vast majority of conversations, these will be adequate for my purposes. However, if asked, I know the foundation upon which I stand and will be able to articulate it to others.

And, more importantly, what I believe to be truth will shine through in how I argue even my tertiary and secondary arguments.

What are your first principles? Where do you feel that logical discord in your heart?

Stefanie N
Stefanie Nicholas is a writer, a mother, and a Catholic. She loves buffalo sauce, books, and American politics - even though she lives in Canada. Her current projects can be found at, and she loves making new friends on Twitter.

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