I don’t think I ever read a book more devoid of the author’s own opinion or analysis than The Golden Rule by Jeffrey Wattles.

He deals with objections to the Golden Rule such as advanced in my previous posts essentially as follows:

Some unsubtle philosophers have advanced objection X against the GR, claiming that X makes the GR output perverse results. But I really like the GR. Therefore, X cannot be a real objection.

The GR is a humble ethic. It does not prescribe any particular conduct. Instead, it tells a person to remember or imagine being well-treated himself. But Wattles is anything but humble. We should treat others, he implies, the way he, Wattles, a lofty and spiritual being, wants himself to be treated. He personally will not “act abusively,” is certainly not “at any stage of immaturity,” but is gifted with “insight” and “diffuse illumination provided by intuition.” Thus, Wattles wants to be treated “in a loving or appropriately humane way.” But that means what, exactly? One of the objections he needs to deal with is that what is good for me differs from what is good for him, so if loving = willing good to, then the GR will churn out a false positive, namely a required conduct that is unethical.

In my view, the negative version of the GR is useful in educating children about the natural law, especially the ethics of liberty. In this sense, it may be considered to be “part of our planet’s common language, shared by persons with differing but overlapping conceptions of morality.” But so are arithmetic, common calendar, and weights and measures. Most adults learn these things early on. Similarly, most adults have no use for the Golden Rule.

Categories: Golden Rule


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