Fishy Morality

Once a renowned philosopher and moralist was traveling through Nasruddin’s village and asked Nasruddin where there was a good place to eat. Nasruddin suggested a place and the scholar, hungry for conversation, invited Mullah Nasruddin to join him. Much obliged, Mullah Nasruddin accompanied the scholar to a nearby restaurant, where they asked the waiter about the special of the day.

“Fish! Fresh Fish!” replied the waiter.

“Bring us two,” they requested.

A few minutes later, the waiter brought out a large platter with two cooked fish on it, one of which was quite a bit smaller than the other. Without hesitating, Mullah Nasruddin took the larger of the fish and put in on his plate. The scholar, giving Mullah Nasruddin a look of intense disbelief, proceed to tell him that what he did was not only flagrantly selfish, but that it violated the principles of almost every known moral, religious, and ethical system. Mullah Nasruddin listened to the philosopher’s extempore lecture patiently, and when he had finally exhausted his resources, Mullah Nasruddin said,

“Well, Sir, what would you have done?”

“I, being a conscientious human, would have taken the smaller fish for myself.” said the scholar.

“And here you are,” Mullah Nasrudin said, and placed the smaller fish on the gentleman’s plate.


  • Philosophizing is useless.
  • For the innovative, there always exists a perspective in which “doing unto others as you’d do unto yourself” pays off.
  • It is never wise to pretend to more morality then you have, you may have to deal with the consequences. (The correct answer would have been: “Taken a half of each so neither of us would be at a loss.”)
  • Moral conduct is ultimately selfish.
  • If the philosopher was such a kind and wise person that he was supposed to be, he did not even care of Nasrudin taking the big fish. The noblest philosophy and erudition can be used for selfish ends.
  • When you invite someone to dine with you, try not to be petty about portion size.
  • Ethics, or politeness, can be overrated. If it were truly in both parties’ best interest that the moralist have the smaller fish, such that he should have chosen it if given the choice, then he shouldn’t have minded the other person choosing that either.
  • The man who will spend his efforts fighting over portions when he could simply fetch more fish is neither ethical nor wise.
  • The greater portion of truth goes to those who have transcended the limits of relative philosophy.
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