Great catch by the Anchoress. Does this definition fail to catch anything? And if the definition is right, then would the ultimate commandment be 'treat all people with the respect and reverence due to God's handiwork?'
Philo? Feel free to append any thoughts...
Update: Philo's response is in the comment section, but I trust he won't mind my moving it up here where it will garner more attention:
Immanuel Kant expressed the nearly identical Humanity Formulation of the Categorical Imperative: "The practical imperative, therefore, is the following: Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only."
This gets around the problematic fact unaddressed in the Anchoress' quote that people are in fact a subset of created things and are therefore broadly in fact "things" inevitably to be so treated.
From Kant's point of view, any violation of the Categorical Imperative could be deemed "sin," although he himself preferred the drier and more academic formulation in his writing.
But this leaves open the question of the actual nature of sin, though, in the sense most people use it, since few people have the foggiest notion of the process by which Kant comes to his various formulations of the Categorical Imperative.
The etymology of the word itself is vexingly unhelpful: it seems merely to derive from the verb "to be" used in a legalistic sense of "is [guilty]": "O.E. synn "moral wrongdoing, offense against God, misdeed," from P.Gmc. *sundjo (cf. O.S. sundia, O.Fris. sende, M.Du. sonde, Ger. Sünde "sin, transgression, trespass, offense"), probably ult. "true" (cf. Goth. sonjis, O.N. sannr "true"), from PIE *es-ont-, prp. of base *es- "to be"....The semantic development is via notion of "to be truly the one (who is guilty)," as in O.N. phrase verð sannr at "be found guilty of," and the use of the phrase "it is being" in Hittite confessional formula. The same process probably yielded the L. word sons (gen. sontis) "guilty, criminal" from prp. of sum, esse "to be, that which is." Some etymologists believe the Gmc. word was an early borrowing directly from the L. genitive."
This shows us how legal images have from the very earliest times been a primary metaphor for our ethical obligations. In a sense, though, this puts things backwards, since law enforcement and judicial processes represent the at-least-potential failure of ethics--the law protects those who would otherwise be harmed by the ethical oversights of others.
Stepping outside of the Roman and Germanic moral/legal models, other languages put the matter in less adversarial structure. The Torah routinely uses metaphors of hygiene--clean and unclean, pure and impure--which put aside, in many cases, questions of intention and motive. The question of intent remained, though, in a particular category of impurity--the "chayt" or "going astray" which St. Paul routinely rendered into Greek as "hamartia" which we would render in English as "missing the mark."
Intentional or unintentional, these terms all presume the existence of an ideal from which the individual diverges.
This notion of "The Way" from which we fallibly stray is of course the essence of Taoism, and C.S. Lewis dwelt upon that fact considerably in "The Abolition of Man" in which he observed how efforts to free man absolutely from conceptual liability to sin in some form or other, or to define sin out of existence inevitably obliterates the very discussability of humanity as a bounded concept and destroys any attempt to impose any responsibility on someone unwilling to accept it.
But the question remains, then, what is The Way? This is what all the mature belief systems attempt to describe, with varying degrees of success. Ultimately, none of them can offer a purely didactic description of the Way, since full communication of the Way could by definition only be shared by complete human experience, in a way analogous to the way a play cannot be fully comprehended by reading its script but only by actually participating in the live interaction between the audience, players, director, playwright and crew.
So any serious attempt to answer this question is going to require a commitment on the part of the questioner.
Hillel's full response to the request "teach me the law while I stand on one foot," was "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." We often quote the first part as the Golden Rule, but the second part "go and learn" is just as important.
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