Golden Egg

May 26, 2010

One of my great bugaboos in ethics is the dogdamned golden rule, and here, to present you with the dogdamned golden rule 2.0, Andrew Revkin offers some interesting snippets from a presentation by Jostein Gaarder. I’ve just returned from a long weekend camping trip, so I’m only barely digging out here, but here’s the speech.

The problem with the golden rule, whether 1.0 or 2.0, is that it encourages reciprocity by asking what we would have others do unto us. Namely, it asks what we want others to do to us. Among several concerns, that’s a problem because what I want isn’t necessarily what you want. I may want my children to be raised in an environment of strict discipline, for instance; where that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Reciprocity is, of course, an important ethical standard, but it’s not appropriately met if it hangs on the desires of any given individual or party of individuals. Better to go with Rawls or Kant for advice on this front. Here’s a list of important philosophical principles, penned over the weekend by Julian Baggani. Notice that the golden rule is nowhere to be found.

Still away from the office. Apologies for the slow posts. I’ll be back in gear next week.


  1. In the Revolutionists Handbook, which was part of Man and Superman, Shaw’s version of the golden rule was don’t do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Their tastes may be different

  2. In most religions (not Christianity), this is phrased as a negative injunction, which removes a lot of the dictatorial “positive liberty” aspects of it.

    There’s also, I think, an underlying religious assertion (which probably a lot of psychologists would agree with) that on some level everyone has the same desires/needs. That’s not, however, at the level of “chocolate or vanilla?”

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