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It is a simple and clear default position for moral decision-making. Sometimes people argue that the Golden Rule is imperfect because it makes the assumption that everyone has the same tastes and opinions and wants to be treated the same in every situation. But the Golden Rule is a general moral principle, not a hard and fast rule to be applied to every detail of life. Treating other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves does not mean making the assumption that others feel exactly as we do about everything.

The treatment we all want is recognition that we are individuals, each with our own opinions and feelings and for these opinions and feelings to be afforded respect and consideration. Trying to live according to the Golden Rule means trying to empathise with other people, including those who may be very different from us.

Empathy is at the root of kindness, compassion, understanding and respect — qualities that we all appreciate being shown, whoever we are, whatever we think and wherever we come from. The Golden Rule cannot be claimed for any one philosophy or religion; indeed, the successful evolution of communities has depended on its use as a standard through which conflict can be resolved.

Throughout the ages, many individual thinkers and spiritual traditions have promoted one or other version of it. Here are some examples of the different ways it has been expressed: Home The Golden Rule. Do not to your neighbour what you would take ill from him. There is a general moral consensus in any society on what constitutes harms and mistreatments, wrongs and injustices. So to obey this component of the golden rule is something we typically expect of each other, even without explicitly consulting a hallowed precept. Its silver role is mostly educative in this context, helping us understand why we expect certain behavior from each other.

The gold in the rule asks more from us, treating people in fair, beneficial, even helpful ways. As some have it, we are to be loving toward others, even when others do not reciprocate, or in fact mistreat us. This would be asking much. But despite appearance, the golden rule does not ask it of us. Nothing about love or generosity is mentioned in the rule, nor implied, much less letting oneself be taken advantage of.

Loving thy neighbor as oneself, or turning the other cheek, are distinct precepts—distinct from the golden rule and from each other. These rules are not stated or identified with the golden rationale in biblical or Confucian scripture. Nor are they illustrated together, say in the parables. Can we learn to love others as ourselves over a lifetime? But we can certainly consider how we need or prefer to be treated. And we can treat others that way on almost all occasions, on the spot, without needing to undergo a prior regimen of prayer, meditation, or working with the poor.

As noted, the golden rule may deal more with being other-directed and sensitive rather than proactive. There is no need for them to engage their character and its traits, for example. The focus here is on what they do, actually, and should not do. They prime us to take certain sorts of postures, showing a readiness to cooperate or to ask others if we are being a pest, though we may not succeed even if we try. They prime us to apologize if in fact we do get in the way, but maybe not more than that. Usually one bears no cost to engage empathetic feelings, if that is what is needed.

If so, it would allow an uplifting turnaround in our moral self-understanding and self-criticism. Conjuring up certain outlooks or orientations is an especially feasible task when provided a golden recipe for how—by role-taking, for example, or empathy or adherence to reciprocity norms. Once our heart goes out to others, following its spontaneous pull hardly requires going the extra foot, much less a mile in effort for anyone.

We simply do what we feel, as much as the pull tugs us to. The truth is that we interact largely in words, and kindly words are free. Where school systems routinely include some degree of moral education in their curricula, the case for golden-rule feasibility in a society is even stronger. And, arguably, most children already get some such training in school and at home implicitly. The same reduced-effort scenario holds when sizing up moral exemplarism, often associated with the golden-rule, and with living its sibling principles. Ministering to the poor and ill often involves the routine work of truckers or dock workers, loading canned food or medical supplies to be hauled away, or hauling it oneself.

It may involve primitive nursing or cooking, and point of contact service work routinely taken on as jobs by non-exemplars. These are not seen as careers in saintly heroism. Pursuing such work as a mission, not an occupation, takes significant commitment and gumption. More, everyday exemplars report doing their work out of an atypical outlook on society and their relation to it. This comes spontaneously to them, as ours comes to us. No additional, much less extraordinary effort is required.

If the golden rule is designed for small-group interaction, where face-to face relations dominate, a failure to reciprocate in kind will be noticed. It cannot be hidden as in anonymous, institutionally-mediated cooperation at a distance. Subtle pressures will be felt to conform with this group norm, and subtle sanctions will apply to those who take more than they give.

Conforming to norms in this setting will be easier than usual, as well, since in-groups attract the like-minded.

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And in such contexts requiring extraordinarily helpful motivations and actions from others would be seen as unfair. By assessing the golden rule outside of such contexts we miss its implicit components, the network of mutual understandings, and established community practices that make its adherence feasible and comprehensible. Such considerations are also crucial in determining the adequacy of the golden rule.

If its function is primarily psychological, its conceptual or theoretical faults are not key. If its design is small-scale, fit to primary relations, its danger of allowing adherents to be stepped on is not key. The golden rule is not only a distinct rationale within a family of related rationales.

It is a general marker, the one explicit component in networks of more implicit rationales and specific prescriptions. Teachings that abstract the rule from its implicit corollaries and situational expectations fail to capture what the rule even says. As a socializing device, the rule helps us identify our roles within mutually respectful and cooperating community. How well it accomplishes this socializing task is another crucial mark of its adequacy, perhaps the most crucial. The prospect of first engaging this rule typically captures childhood imaginations, like acquiring many highly useful social skills.

Fowler , Kohlberg , Putting these considerations together allows us to identify where the golden rule may be operating unnoticed as a matter of routine—in families, friendships, classrooms and neighborhoods, and in hosts of informal organizations aiming to perform services in the community. The foregoing appeals for feasibility are not primarily defenses of the golden rule against criticism.

They are clarifications of the rule that expose misconceptions, central to its long-standing reputation. We now question, also, the much admired roles of empathy and role-taking in the golden rule, which can ease adherence to it, but are not necessary. The rule is certainly not a guideline for empathizing or role-taking process, as most believe and welcome. Their numbers seem legion. The golden rule can be adhered to in other ways. The golden rule is much-reputed for being the most culturally universal ethical tenet in human history. This suggests a golden link to human nature and its inherent aspirations.

It recommends the rule as a unique standard for international understanding and cooperation—noble aims, much-lauded by supporters. In support of the link, golden logic and paraphrasing has been cited in tribal and industrialized societies across the globe, from time immemorial to the present. This supposedly renders the rule immune to cultural imperialism when made standard for human rights, international law, and the spreading of western democracy and education—a prospect many welcome, while others fear it. Note that if the golden rule is truly distinct from the related principles such as loving thy neighbor as thyself and feeding the poor, these cherished claims for the rule are basically debunked.

Analysis of this endless stream of sightings shows no more than a family resemblance among distinct rationales See golden rule website in references below. Still others promote charity, forgiveness and love for all. Culturally, the golden rule rationale is mostly confined to certain strands of the Judeo-Christian and Chinese traditions, which are broad and lasting, at least until recently, but hardly universal See Wattles The original statement of the golden rule, in the Hebrew Torah, shows a rule, not an ethical principle, much less the sort of universal principle philosophers make of it.

And even a devout Jew is likely to lose concentration when perusing these outdated, dubious and less than riveting observations. No fair reading of Levitticus XIX: For in Levitticus the commandment is merely not to judge an offender by his offense, and thereby hold a grudge against a fellow Jew for committing it. But love him as yourself. The latter, a crucially different principle, is meant here differently than we now interpret it as well. Seen amid such concrete and mutually understood practices of a small tribe, the golden rule poses no role-taking test.

Any community member can comply simply by knowing which reciprocity practices are approved or frowned on. If a kind of imaginative role-playing is contemplated, one need only conjure up images of community elders frowning or fawning over a variety of choice options and everyday practices. Neither in eastern nor western traditions did the golden rule shine alone. Thus viewing and analyzing it in isolation misses the point. Generosity meant hospitality to the stranger or alien as well, remembering that the Jews were once strangers in a strange land. Farmland was to lay fallow each seventh year like the Sabbath when God rested so that, in part, the poor then could find rest there, and room to grow Deuteronomy XV: Turning the other cheek Luke 6: What neighbor would strike or steal from you taking our cloak so that you must give him your coat also Matthew 5: This far exceeds what the golden rule asks—simply that we consider others as comparable to us and consider our comparable impacts on them.

These do not represent fair or equal reciprocity in fact. Ask how you would wish to be treated if you were a shameful abuser or even homeless person. They feel this is what they deserve. To abuse-counselors and homeless shelter workers, this goes without saying. What the abusive and homeless should want, or calculate as their desert, may be something different. But golden-rule role-taking will not tell. There is one area where the golden rule extends too far, directly into the path of a turning of the other cheek. When we are seriously taken advantage of or mistreated, the rule bids that we treat them well nonetheless.

We are to react to unfair treatment as if it were fair treatment, ignoring the moral difference. Critics jump on this problem, as they should, because the golden rule seems designed to highlight such cases. Here is where the rule most contrasts with our typical, pre-moral reaction, while also rising above Old Testament justice. In the process, it promotes systematic and egregious self-victimization in the name of self-sacrifice. Yet, is self-sacrifice in the name of unfairness to be admired? Benevolence that suborns injustice, rather than adding ideals to it, seems morally questionable.

Moreover, under the golden rule, both victimization and self-victimization seems endless, promoting further abuse in those who have a propensity for it. No matter how much someone takes advantage of us, we are to keep treating them well. Here the golden rule seems simply unresponsive. Its call to virtuous self-expression is fine, as is its reaction to the equal personhood of the offender. But it neither addresses the wrong being committed, nor that part of the perpetrator to be faulted and held accountable.

Interpersonally, the rule calls for a bizarre response, an almost obtuse or incomprehensible one. It can certainly be integrated into the high-road alternative. In this type of case, the golden rule sides with its infeasible siblings. And this asks too much. These criticisms have merit, but can be mitigated. There is no such proviso in the rule. As the Gandhi-King method has shown, it is perfectly legitimate to fault the action—even condemn the action—while not condemning the person, or taking revenge.

The practice of abusing or taking advantage of someone does not define its author as a person after all, even when it is habitual. The wrongs anyone commits do not eradicate his good deeds, nor our potential for reform. And the golden rule has us recognize that. But the spirit of silent self-sacrifice is found more in the sibling principles than the golden rule, and should be kept there. There are nice and not so nice ways to make this point. If Yeshua is our guide, not so nice approaches are acceptable. If this be love, then it is certainly hard love, especially when we note that Yeshua faults the person here, not just the act.

We must also see these cases in social context to see how far the golden rule bids us go. If we are sensible, and have friends, it is unlikely we will place ourselves in the vicinity of serious abusers, or remain there. When used in this context, without alteration, the golden rule poses an alternative to the typical ways these practices are performed.

But it remains this sort of special principle. Among its aims, the rule certainly seems bent on goals like rectification, recompense and reform, but indirectly. Arguably the rule has us exemplify the right path—the path the perpetrator might have taken, but did not, thus demonstrating its allure, its superiority. Ideally, a perpetrator will think better of his practice, apologizing for past wrongs and making up for them. At least it might move him to abandon this sort of practice.

And if moral processes are not awakened, then at least placing the offender in a morally disadvantageous position within the group will bring pressures to bear on his behavior. Exemplifying fairness in this way also shows demonstrates putting the person first, holding his status paramount relative to his actions, and our sense of offense. Exemplifying a moral high road, so as to edify others does not show passivity or weakness. It is normally communicated in a strong, positive pose.

Standing above a vengeful or masochist temptation uplifts the supposed victim, not making him further trodden down. Indeed, its courageous spirit is key in working its effect, an effect achieved by Gandhi, King and legions of followers under the most morally hostile conditions. Again, these realities of the rule can only be seen in context, looking into the subtleties of interpersonal relating, communicated emotion, performance before a social audience and the like.

The mere logic or golden principle of the thing is silent on them. The same holds for the less feasible sibling rules of the golden rule family, from giving to the poor to turning the other cheek. Trying them out makes a world of difference in understanding what they say. Second, we find that people do not generally ask much, especially when they see you at risk of being taken advantage of for your exceptional good will. Finding simple ways to make the most needy more self-reliant—such as simply encouraging them to be so—also may lighten the helping load.

The good it does may be exceptional.

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

No full mitigation may be possible here. The golden rule, if not exacerbating the problem in practice, at least serves to legitimatize it. Its rationale has been exploited by many, including some Christian churches and clergy who suborn victimization as a lifestyle, especially for wives and mothers. A rule cannot be responsible for those who misuse it, or fail to grasp its purposes. But those sustaining the rule bear a responsibility to clarify its intent. It certainly would be better if the rule itself made its intentions clear or included illustrations of proper use.

Currently, it relies on the chance intervention of moral teachers or service organizations—those opposed to, say, domestic violence. Confucian writing was definitely not geared to rank and file Chinese, much less children learning their moral lessons. This is an intolerable shortfall for an egalitarian socialization tool. The first involves taking a perspective, the second, gaining similar life experience in an ongoing way. But of course we may not know how to love ourselves, or how to do so in the right way. Given that we may not be loving enough to ourselves, loving our neighbor is best accomplished by referring to prevailing standards.

Our own proclivities or values are certainly not the final word. We must consult the community, its ethical conventions or scriptures including Kantian or Utilitarian scriptures. The last word comes through a critical comparison of these conventions, in experience, with our proclivities and values. Neither we nor our neighbors likely think it is legitimate, or even kind, to give a thief additional portions of our property. Doing so might well be masochistic, or even egotistical, thinking about our own character development most, thereby exacerbating crime and endangering the community.

Instead, perhaps, we might wish to steal it. Role-taking cannot guide us here. In fact, it could easily lead us astray in various misguided directions. Some would consider it ideal to be unconcerned with property because it puts spiritual concerns over materialism, or it puts charity before just desert. Others could make a case for better balancing the competing principles involved. What good does role-taking do here?

The golden rule is not meant to raise such questions. Philosophers deal with these problems by standardizing the way roles are taken, the thinking that goes on in the roles, and so forth. This is what the Kantian veil of ignorance or Rawlsian original position or Habermasian ideal speech rubric is for. But surely the commonsense role-taking precepts we are talking about here do not even dream of such measures. Prescriptions for role-taking are likely prominent in many cultures both for the increased psychological perspective they breed and the door they open to better interpersonal interaction.

The interpersonal skill involved is perhaps the best explanation of their widespread use and praise, not their power of edification. It is true that if we truly wished to treat others as ourselves, or the way we would want to be treated—if we were them, not ourselves merely placed in their position— role-taking would help. But it is not unusual for primarily psychological or interpersonal tools to aid ethics without being part of ethics itself. If we truly took that perspective, we would not have to empathize.

Even if we took the perspective without the associated emotion, our task would then be to conjure up the emotion in the perspective. More, in any relevant context, the golden rule urges to think before we act, then imagine how we would feel, not how the other would. This is not how one empathizes. Emotionally, the appropriate orientation toward causing someone possible harm is worry or foreboding. Consider more closely what we are supposed to achieve from role-taking and empathy via the golden rule.

We get a sense of how others are different from us, and how their situation differs from ours, uniquely tailored to their perspective and feelings on the matter. We then put ourselves in their place with these differences in tact, added on to ours, and subtracting from ours where necessary. But this already is a consequence of applying the rule, not a way of applying it. Putting oneself in their place here would not seem a good idea. Neither would empathy, as opposed to prediction. Without involving others, such role-taking is a unilateral affair, whether well-intended or otherwise.

Fairer and more respectful alternatives would involve not only consulting others on their actual outlooks, but including them in our decision making. To some, the gold in the golden rule is love, the silver component, respect. The love connection is likely made in part by confusing the golden rule with its sibling, love thy neighbor as oneself. This could render like interest in others as other-love. But this is not really in the spirit of unconditional love. This formulation has appeal though it ignores an important reality. Though we might wish to be treated ideally, we might not wish, or feel able to reciprocate in kind.

Keeping mutual expectations a bit less onerous—especially when they apply to strangers and possible enemies—may seem more palatable. But this is to think in interested and conditional terms. Agapeistic love is disinterested or indifferent, if in a lushly loving way. Its bestowal is not based on anything in particular about the person, but only that they are a person. This sufficiently qualifies them as a beloved.

And agape does not come out of us as an interest we have, whether toward people, the good, or anything similar. It comes only out of love, expressing love, or the good luring us with its goodness. Our staking claim or aim toward the good as a personal goal is not involved. The same is true for self-regard. We love ourselves because we are lovable and valuable, like anyone else.

The basic or essential self, the soul within us is lovable whether we happen to like and esteem ourselves or not. The most obvious ethical implication of agape is that it is not socially discriminating. We do not love people because they are attractive, or hold compatible views, or work in a profession we respect. Are they friend, stranger, or opponent? Most surprising, we do not prefer those close to us or in a special relationship, including parent and child.

Children in agapeistic communities are often raised by the adults as a whole, and in separate quarters from parents, primarily inhabited by peers. For moral idealists, agape is most alluring. To love in a non-discriminating way has a certain unblemished perfection to it. Pursuing moral values simply for their value or goodness seems clearly more elevated than pursuing them out of personal preference. Loving someone because they happen to be related to us, or a friend, or could do us a favor is shown up as somewhat cheap and discriminatory by comparison.

Seeing ourselves as special is revealed for the trap it is—being stuck with ourselves and our self-preference, a burden to aspiration. What is this condition but the ultimate hold of ego over, binding us to all our attachments? In philosophy, intellectual ego is a chief obstacle between us and truth, causing us to believe ourselves because we are ourselves, despite knowing that there are thinkers just as wise or wiser, with just as well-seasoned beliefs.

Why be led around by the nose of our particular beliefs and interests just because they blare most loudly in our heads? Agape is worth pondering as a fit purveyor of the golden rule. What could be more golden? But promoting other-directedness is its remedy, not unconditionality.

The Golden Rule

We could indeed be faulted for ignoring others as persons, treating them like potted plants in the room, but that would only result if they craved our notice, attention, or participation. Typically, it would be fine with others if we just went about our business while not getting into theirs. As with empathy, we cannot be uninterested on demand, or even after practicing to do so long and hard. And if we do not have our self-identified interests taken seriously, we feel that we are not taken seriously, whether we ideally should or not.

Ethics is not only about ideals, nor in fact, primarily about ideals. If interest were not key to ours and theirs, the golden rule would be moot. With unconditional love, reciprocity is beside the point, along with its social reciprocity conventions. Taking any perspective is the same as taking any other. So is taking the perspective of any particular other.

Happening to be ourselves, or a particular other, and taking that as a basis for favoritism, seems a condition—a failure in unconditionality. I could have been anyone, any of them, as they could have been me. So why do I take who I am or who they are so seriously?. Unlike every other ethic, agape provides no basis for according ourselves special first-person discretion or privacy. The self-other gap is transcended. In principle, when we raise our spoon filled with breakfast cereal at the morning table, the matter of whose mouth it goes into is in question.

Some agapeists would not go this far, instead keeping our self-identification intact. But there is good reason to go farther. And of course there are the turn the other cheek precepts of Yeshua, which push in this direction. In any event, ethics is not built for such concerns. It is a system designed to handle conflicts of interest, the direction of interests toward values and, perhaps, the upgrading and transformation of interests into aspirations. Agape would function, within the golden rule, as something more like a song or affirmation for the self-transformations achieved.


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It is the very admirable diminution or lack of self-interest, in agapeistic love and in social discrimination that puts an agapeistic golden rule out of reach. Its double dose of moral purity and perfection puts it doubly out of reach. We arguably cannot be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect or complete. We also cannot realistically strive toward it, and most likely should not. Secularly, its beautiful intentions have unwanted consequences.

We wish to be loved for us, for our self-identity and the values we identify with. When we are not loved this way, we do not feel loved at all—not loved for whom we are. We are entitled to it. We build rights around it. And we feel callously disregarded when a loving gaze shows no special glint of recognition as it surveys us among a group of others.

This is less egoism than a sense of distinctness and uniqueness within the additional expectations of realized relationship. Putting the matter more generally, human motivational systems come individually packaged. They are hard-wired to harboring and pursuing interest. And a valid ethics is designed to serve human nature, even as it strives to improve it.

If we can transcend human nature, then we need a different system of values, or perhaps nothing like an ethical system. We have risen beyond good and evil, indifferent to harm of death.. We are born, and remain psychologically individualized throughout life, not possessed of a hive mind in which we directly share our choice-making and experiences. We are each unquestionably possessed of this natural, immutable division of moral labors, which gives us direct and reliable control only of our own self.

Hence we are held responsible only for our own actions, expected to do for ourselves, provided special standing to plead our own case of mistreatment, and accorded great discretion in our own individual sphere, to do as we like. When agapeistic morality puts our very nature on the spot, bidding us to recast basic motivations to suit—when it sets us in lifetime struggle against ourselves—it fails to acknowledge morality as our tool, not primarily our taskmaster. These considerations provide the needed boundary line to situate the golden rule this side of a feasibility-idealism divide.

The golden rule is indeed designed for human nature as it is and for egos with interests, trying to be better to each other.

Christian agape, like Buddhist indifference and non-attachment is said to be inexpressible in words. It can only be understood correctly through direct insight and experience. Granted, adherents of these ideals place the achievement of spiritual insight out of common hands. Only a few of the most gifted or fortunate adherents achieve it in a lifetime. As such, spiritual love cannot be the currency of the golden rule as we know it, negotiating mutual equality for the vast majority of humanity in everyday life.

What agapeists may be onto is that the golden rule has a dual nature. At a common level, it is a principle of ethical reciprocity.

The Golden Rule - Think Humanism

But for those who use its ethic to rise above good and evil in a mundane sense, the golden rule is a wisdom principle. It marks the transcendence of interested and egoistic perspectives. It points toward its sibling of loving thy neighbor as thyself because thy neighbor is us in some deeper sense, accessible by deeper, less egoistic love.

Philosophical treatments of the golden rule itself come next, with an evaluation of their alternative top-down approach. One reason philosophers emphasize the juxtaposition of ethics and human nature stems from the moralistic, if not masochistic cast of ethical traditions. Moral suspicion of medieval shira laws in Islam is another. Ethics in general has also been feminized to encompass self-caring as well, a kind of third-person empathy and supportive aid to oneself Gilligan Here, a clarified golden rule notion can fit well.

As Aristotelians note, the good for anything depends on its type or species: For philosophers, however, even a clarified or unbiased depiction of the golden rule cannot overcome its shortfalls in specificity and decisiveness. Ply the rule in the handling of complex and nuanced problems of complex institutions and it is at sea. We cannot imagine how to begin its application.

Exercise it within networks of social roles and practices and the rule seems utterly simplistic. This said, the irony should not be lost here of critics setting the rule up to fail by over-generalizing its intended scope and standards for success. Maximum generalization is the dominant philosophical approach to the rule. And in this form there is no question that its shortfalls are many. The rule seems hopeless for dealing with highly layered institutions working through different hierarchies of status and authority. Yet the rule has been posed by philosophers as the ultimate grounding principle of the major moral-philosophic traditions—of a Kantian-like categorical imperative, and a Utilitarian prototype.

As noted, this is a tribal or clan rule, cast in highly traditional societies and nurtured there. There is no evidence that it was ever originally intended to define human obligations and problem solving within the human community writ large, or in complex institutional settings in particular. In small-group interactions what would normally be tolerated as diversity of opinion and practice can be legitimately identified as problematic instead.

Being like-minded, most often group members have expressed commitment to common beliefs, values, and responsibilities. But more important, the rule is vastly more detailed and institutionalized here than it seems because of its guidance by established practices, conventions, and understandings. In such contexts, one can imagine a corollary to the golden rule that would make sense: Moreover, this corollary may not sanction an actual comeuppance of offenders, in violation of golden-rule spirit, functioning instead as a threat or gentle reminder of joint expectations.

Marcus Singer, in standard philosophical style, portrays the golden rule as a principle, not a rule. This is because it does not direct a specific type of action that can be morally evaluated in itself. Instead, it offers a rationale for generating such rules. It starts from an abstracted logical ideal, elaborating a theory around it by tracing its logical implications.

Of course, philosophy need not start from the beginning when addressing a concept, nor be confined by an original intent or design or its cultural development. The rest is chaff or flourish or unnecessary additives. Still, the distinction between principles and rules may not be as sharp as claimed. General rules rules of legal evidence, for example also can be used to derive more specific rules based on their logics; principles need not be consulted. Consulting community reciprocity standards or conventions might be one.

Thus, do nice things by consulting community standards would proceduralize a rule to generate more specific action directives. Again, no consultation with principles are needed. Most philosophical principles of ethics are explanatory, providing an ultimate ground for understanding prescriptions. These also can be used to justify moral rationales. The rule is not portrayed, then as a stationary intellectual object notched on the wall of an inquiring mind.

It takes on a life for the moral community living its life. This conceives ethical theory on the model of scientific theory, especially a physical theory with its laws of nature. These latter approaches typically use examples of ethical judgments that the author considers cogent, leaving the reader to agree or disagree on its intuitive appeal. Hare apparently feels that they are.

Golden Rule

But wishes, choices, preferences, and feelings of gladness certainly do not seem the same thing. Choices can come from wishes, though they rarely do, and one feels glad about the results of choices, if not wishes, generally. Choosing is usually endorsing and expressing a want, whether or not it expresses a preference among desired objects. This is a tricky phrase.

An alternative rendering is how you prefer they treat you, singling out the want that has highest priority for you in this peculiar context of mutual reciprocity, not necessarily in general. Further alternatives are treatments we would accept, or acquiesce in or consent to as opposed to actively and ideally choose or choose as most feasible. These are four quite different options. Or would we have others do unto us as we believe or expect they should treat us based on our or their value commitments and sense of entitlement?

Are the expectations of just the two or three people involved to count, or count more than the so-called legitimate expectations of the community? Such interpretations can ride the rule of gold in quite different directions, led by individual tastes, group norms, or transcendent religious or philosophical principles. And we might see some of these as unfair or otherwise illegitimate.

In such contexts, philosophical analysis usually answers questions, clarifying differences in concepts, meanings and their implications. I may choose, wish or want that you would treat me with great kindness and generosity, showing me an unselfish plume of altruism. But if I then was legitimately expected to reciprocate out of consistency, I might consent, agree, or acquiesce only in mutual respect or minimal fairness, at most.

From this consent logic we move toward Kantian or social contract versions of mutual respect and a sort of rational expectation that can be widely generalized. But we move very far from the many spirits of the golden rule, wishful and ideal. We move from expanding self-regard other-directedly to hedging our bets, which makes great moral difference.

In psychology, by contrast, it has been identified with self-esteem and locus of control. These are quite different orientations, setting different generalizable expectations in oneself and in others. It is not clear that generalizing self-love captures appropriate other-love. Common opinion has it that love of others should be more disinterested and charitable than love of self, or self-interest. We feel that it is fine to be hard on ourselves on occasion, but more rarely hard on others.