Ethics 08 - The Golden Rule

Directions: Read to the bottom (scrolling
if necessary); then click "forward =>."

The golden rule requires that we treat others only as we consent to being treated in the same situation. GR is the most important principle in this book and perhaps the most important rule of life. GR can be derived from the consistency requirements of our previous chapter. Applying GR requires further elements, like knowledge and imagination, that we'll discuss in the following chapter.

These questions are about Chapter 8 of Harry Gensler's Ethics: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge: 1998 and 2011).

A golden rule theorem

Our golden rule theorem says: "Treat others only as you consent to being treated in the same situation." To apply GR, I'd imagine myself in the other person's place on the receiving end of the action. GR forbids this combination:
    * I do something to another.
    * I'm unwilling that this be done to me in the same situation.
GR doesn't tell us what specific act to do. And it doesn't replace regular moral norms. It only prescribes consistency -- that we not have our actions (toward another) be out of harmony with our desires (about a reversed-situation action). To apply GR adequately, we need knowledge and imagination.

If we're conscientious and impartial, then we'll follow GR -- since then we won't do something to another unless we believe it would be all right -- and thus believe it would be all right to do to us in the same situation -- and thus are willing that it be done to us in the same situation.

Our formulation

The literal GR says: "If you want X to do something to you, then do this same thing to X." This can lead to absurdities if we are in a different situation from X or have defective desires about how we are to be treated. To avoid these, our GR uses a same-situation clause, a present attitude toward a hypothetical situation, and a don't-combine form.

The golden rule is close to being a global principle -- a norm common to all peoples of all times. It makes a good summary of morality and a good way to operationalize the idea of "loving your neighbor." Closely related to GR are the self-regard and future-regard principles, and the formula of universal law: "Act only as you're willing for anyone to act in the same situation -- regardless of imagined variations of time or person."

Why follow GR?

We could base the golden rule on practically any approach to ethics. For example, we might base GR on social conventions, personal feelings, self-interest, God's will, or self-evident truths.

menu | forward =>
This set has 42 problems.