Last week my wonderful friend S told me about The Lesbian Rule. Not what you’re thinking! And yet something of great philosophical interest, and with a name we should all be using! It was apparently a nifty device developed on Lesbos.
From Wikipedia (but trust it– S knows his Aristotle, and it’s just what he said!):
A lesbian rule was historically a flexible mason’s rule made of lead that could be bent to the curves of a molding, and used to measure or reproduce irregular curves.
The rule is alluded to by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics (bk V, ch. 10) as a metaphor for the importance of flexibility in equitable justice: “For what is itself indefinite can only be measured by an indefinite standard, like the leaden rule used by Lesbian builders; just as that rule is not rigid but can be bent to the shape of the stone, so a special ordinance is made to fit the circumstances of the case.”
In the 17th and early 18th centuries the term was often used figuratively (as Aristotle had used it) to mean a pliant, flexible and accommodating principle of judgement.
I plan to invoke a Lesbian Rule as often as I can, by name. (Even if– perhaps especially because– that is just what everyone expects a feminist head of department to do.) I also think it’s an interesting and potentially useful philosophical concept. (And yes, I know this has been discussed before under other names. But the other names AREN’T AS GOOD.)