Thursday, December 10, 2009

12 The Golden Rule

Our main question at this moment still is, how to justify our moral judgements. On what do I ground my judgement that I ought to do something, that some action is morally wrong?

In our former lectures, dealing with the ideas of William Frankena, I found an interesting combination of ideas of moral duty, rationality and also a utilitarian approach. So he stays on my list.

But can't it be way more easier, based on thousands of years of human history? Don't we have what we call "The Golden Rule". Read this:


We propose the Golden Rule, which for thousands of years has been affirmed in many religious and ethical traditions, as a fundamental principle upon which to base a global ethic:

"What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others," or in positive terms, "What you wish done to yourself, do to others." This rule should be valid not only for one's own family, friends, community and nation, but also for all other individuals, families, communities, nations, the entire world, the cosmos.
-end quote

The Wikipedia (EN) has an extensive article on the Golden Rule: "The golden rule has its roots in a wide range of world cultures, and is a standard which different cultures use to resolve conflicts; it was present in the philosophies of ancient India, Greece, Judea and China."

So, global ethics, a long history and support of the rule in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Humanism, Islam, Judaism: this rule seems to have the best papers as a way to justify moral judgements.

There may even be an evolutionary base in the phenomenon of reciprocity. In social psychology, reciprocity refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, and responding to a negative action with another negative one.

But I think you already feel it coming: this is not my favorite rule at all. And it seems I am in good company. The philosopher Immanuel Kant himself rejects the the golden rule in his Critique of Practical Reason, not by discussing it extensively but just in a footnote.
So what is wrong with this rule?

The norm of reciprocity varies widely in its details from situation to situation, and from society to society. Anthropologists and sociologists have often claimed, that having some version of the norm appears to be a social inevitability.

And there is the catch. Reciprocity may exist, but is depended on situations, societies and cultures. Just imagine…… some examples:

It is a consequence of someone's deepest religious conviction that his wife should wear a burkha and should walk 2 meters behind him in public, not at his side? Is this this man acting immorally to do this to his wife?

Or another situation. I see that a man falls in a canal in Amsterdam. I know that man. Was smarter than the police and escaped conviction of rape, women abuse, forced prostitution and women slavery.

The evidence was waterproof and corroborating, but he got away because of such a legal formality, that was not correctly applied. And now he yells "I can't swim !!"

What is my moral duty? Would I like to drown? No! But then, save the man? That would mean that he possibly will continue his horrible treatment of women and criminal behavior and hurt other people again.

Or when the man gets convicted he could ask the judge, if he would like to spend the rest of his life in jail. Would he do that to himself? I guess not. So isn't is justified then to let the convicted man go?

We must conclude that this rule wont work as a universal one, but within the boundaries of a specific group, it definitely can be used as a guiding principle. It relates to the reciprocity, which can be observed in the behavior of primates.

But what about Kant. When he wipes such a golden rule off the table in a footnote, then he must have been pretty convinced about his own rightness, when he proposed his Categorical Imperative.

Kant's rule: "I am never to act otherwise than that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. It is the simple conformity to law in general that serves the will as its principle."

Suppose I lie to you, telling you that Christmas won't be celebrated this year due to the global warming of the climate…. no snow. I should say to myself… suppose it is a universal law that everyone may lie.

Any rational person will say, that that is not good, so my lie about Xmas is immoral. Thou shall not lie. Ok, an other example then.

They knock on the door. I open the door and there is the Gestapo: "We are searching for Jews. Do you hide jews in your home?" I answer "NO" and my jewish friends hiding in the attic feel relieved.

There is a lot more to say about Kant's ideas, but he doesn't stand the test either. So, although it looks so attractive to solve all moral issues with a single rule, we must conclude that life isn't that simple.

To finish a simple instruction on how to use google to study philosophy. Many of us have the habit of typing one or two words as search key. That is ok, but may I advise you to type as search key, for instance, "What is wrong with the Golden Rule".

You will be amazed about the results you get. The only critical thing is that you need the knowledge and insight to determine what is rubbish and what result of the search has quality.

In other words, use as search key anything you like, words but also whole phrases. The search engine of Google, Yahoo, Altavista or whatever program you like to use does the rest.

The Discussion

[13:22] herman Bergson: That is my Golden Rule for today ㋡
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:23] Abraxas Nagy: ah
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: perhaps if it started from the beginning as the way of life it might work
[13:23] herman Bergson: It works really fine
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: but it did not
[13:24] herman Bergson: interesting is to see that this golden rule principle occures in almost every religion
[13:24] oola Neruda: i think one of the things that is both obvious but also not factored that not everyone lives by that rule
[13:24] herman Bergson: but what it overlooks is cultural differences
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:24] Scope Cleaver: Do you adhere to that rule personally?
[13:24] oola Neruda: thus some of the examples are weakened
[13:24] herman Bergson: tho in all cultures people come to the same conslusion
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: i try but it dos not always work lol
[13:25] herman Bergson: usually a normal person adheres to that rule
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: when i thought about it, i realized i've always thought of the Golden Rule as just a rule of thumb
[13:25] herman Bergson: it is simply the reciprocity principle which is common to social behavior
[13:26] herman Bergson: yes Repose...within the context of your own culture it works
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:27] herman Bergson: but we see that cultural differences disable the application of the rule
[13:27] Ludwig John: and what rule have the terrorist have in Iraque or Afghanistan?
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: they don't
[13:27] Abraxas Nagy: one mans terrorist is another man´s freedom fighter
[13:27] Daruma Boa: in war and love everything is allowed. another rule;-)
[13:27] herman Bergson: well they just long for dieing as a martyr and would certainly wish this to you too Ludwig
[13:28] Yejiba Severine: So sorry Professor, I have to go now :(
[13:28] herman Bergson: Like a sadist is a masochist applying the golden rule
[13:28] Ludwig John: does god respect that Golden Rule?
[13:28] Abraxas Nagy: c ya Yi
[13:28] herman Bergson: Bye Yejiba ㋡
[13:28] Daruma Boa: bye yejiba
[[13:29] Abraxas Nagy: hahaha
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: one additional problem with it might be that it seems to have the structure of an infinite regress...
[13:29] herman Bergson: What do you mean Repose?
[[13:30] Repose Lionheart: Wiki called it the "self-correcting" nature of the Rule
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: not so sure its a good thing
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: guy goes into a bar looking for a fight
[13:30] herman Bergson: ah ..yes.... the Wiki article is worth reading
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:31] herman Bergson: YEs that is a nice one....leads to a big fight:)
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: not necessarily
[13:31] herman Bergson: and all following the golden rule
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: if he considers whether he would want others to apply the rule as he is donig
[13:31] herman Bergson: Indeed..not when he hits a pacifist ㋡
[13:31] Abraxas Nagy: haaaahaaaahaaaahaaaahaaa
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: but then you can twist the argument back on itself again
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: and again
[13:32] herman Bergson: or one who offers him the other cheek too ㋡
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: infinite regress
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: always suspicious of those
[13:32] herman Bergson smiles
[13:32] herman Bergson: they don't bite
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: in physics, they indicate a lack of knowledge
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: and theoretical adequacy
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: suspect in ethics
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: same thing
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: ㋡
[13:33] herman Bergson: ANyway, I think that the golden rule is nice general wisdom, but hardly a way to justify our moral judgements
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: yep
[13:34] Scope Cleaver: Sorry crashed, I must have missed your response
[13:34] herman Bergson: It can be used as a personal guideline tho
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: and so we go on searching for the handle to the door
[13:34] herman Bergson: You were out of Scope?
[13:34] Scope Cleaver: Yes for a few minutes
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:35] Scope Cleaver: I had asked if you did adhere to the rule yourself, before I crashed
[13:35] herman Bergson: Oh ..I answered that it is general behavior within a given culture to do so, I f=guess
[13:35] Daruma Boa: hi tsme
[13:35] Daruma Boa: +i
[13:35] itsme Frederix: ;)
[13:36] herman Bergson: It is based ion the nor of reciprocity which is part of our social behavior
[13:36] herman Bergson: and not only ours
[13:36] herman Bergson: funny story about baboons.....who help each other
[13:37] Scope Cleaver: Yes, I understand there is/possibly could be an evolutionary explanation for it.
[13:37] herman Bergson: the alpha male controls all attractive females..
[13:37] herman Bergson: the younger ones get together and start distracting the alpha male
[13:37] herman Bergson: then the each at his turn can mate with the females of the alpha male
[13:38] herman Bergson: I distract him you take the girl..then you do the same for me
[13:38] Ludwig John whispers: Owner say /chat or touch me
[13:38] herman Bergson: so this reciprocity also appears in social behavior of other primates
[13:39] herman Bergson: The golden rule has just a limited scope
[13:40] herman Bergson: If you have no further questions we should prepare for the next lecture and try to find other answers
[13:40] herman Bergson: answers
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:40] herman Bergson: Thank you for your participation ㋡
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:41] Abraxas Nagy: ty professor
[13:41] Ludwig John: thank you
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: see you thursday i hope
[13:41] Scope Cleaver: Next lecture being next week? or today?
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor
[13:41] herman Bergson: What has happened to you Itsme...cloak and dagger stories?
[13:41] Abraxas Nagy: I enjoyed it
[[13:41] Abraxas Nagy: as always
[13:41] herman Bergson: Next lecture is onThursday, Scope ㋡
[13:41] Daruma Boa: *GIGGLES* :)~~~~
[13:41] Daruma Boa: and looks a bit like death
[13:41] Abraxas Nagy: WOOOOOOOO
[13:42] Scope Cleaver: Yes I have tons of questions if we have time...
[13:42] Abraxas Nagy: oops
[13:42] Daruma Boa: how much is the fish?
[13:42] Daruma Boa: ^^
[13:42] herman Bergson: Have you become a sorcerer Itsme?
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: AH HAHAHAHA
[13:43] Scope Cleaver: This is Q&A?
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: yep
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: i think
[13:44] Scope Cleaver: herman?
[13:44] herman Bergson: Well...class dismissed
[13:44] Ludwig John: good night and good bye
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