Golden Rule Essay

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By assuming other people should be treated the way I want to be treated, it imposes my preferences and values on those around me.

Wouldn’t a better rule be “One should treat others as they want to be treated”? You’re not the first person to question the logic of this principle.

It’s a reasonable reaction to any axiom that’s supposed to work for all people, in all situations, all the time.

The problem, however, has little to do with diversity or modernity; the problem is with the core supposition that any two people (regardless of similarity) will want the same thing.

The rule is distinguished from highly supererogatory rationales commonly confused with it—loving thy neighbor as thyself, turning the other cheek, and aiding the poor, homeless and afflicted.

Like or unconditional love, these precepts demand much more altruism of us, and are much more liable to utopianism.The Golden Rule is imperfect and, at times, too easy of a response, so I almost never directly reference it in this column.Beyond the most fundamental level, I don’t believe people want the same things.HOME INVASIONRecently, my home was featured in a full-page advertisement in a national magazine. Your private residence is being used to promote a product that (I assume) you paid for, based on the assumption that you’ll robotically be flattered to see your house in a magazine. The advertiser is a manufacturer of a building product that we installed in the house, and our house is the only one featured in the ad. These policies are central to how I want to be treated by others.And if this is the way I wish to be treated, it should be — according to the Golden Rule — how I treat everyone else. This semantic loophole makes the Golden Rule virtually bulletproof, which is why it’s such a durable platitude.This is why the Golden Rule is ultimately like every other maxim: It works flawlessly, until it doesn’t. Then it just becomes a collection of words that sound vaguely profound. I did not know that my home would be in the advertisement until my contractor told me to look for it. The most familiar version of the Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Moral philosophy has barely taken notice of the golden rule in its own terms despite the rule’s prominence in commonsense ethics.


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