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Is "The Golden Rule" a valid and useful principle of ethics?

In past podcasts, you've mentioned that you consider "The Golden Rule" -- meaning, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" -- as flawed. What are some of the problems with this rule? Does it have any value?

Larry Samuels , 31.12.2012, 09:24
Idea status: completed


DianaHsieh, 31.12.2012, 19:47
Here's the full question, as written:

I think I recall that in a couple of podcasts, you'd mentioned that you consider the so-called "Golden Rule" ( "One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself") a flawed idea (if my memory's wrong, sorry!).

If so, would you be able to take some time to discuss the problems?

(This isn't a major concern of mine; I find Rand's ideas much more to my way of thinking. But I wasn't able to figure out the downside of the above rule, and thought I'd ask.)

Some objections I can see: for most folks, it's just a moral commandment, without justification (never a good idea). Also, I'd guess it isn't a primary concept - the core ideas behind it would stem from ethical theory and human psychology. And, what do you do if the other guy doesn't follow that rule - what are the consequences?

One benefit of the concept that I see is this: most people are only used to thinking of moral concepts as deriving from religion. The so-called "Golden Rule" is one idea, detached from religion and deriving from human psychology, that can be seen as a valid rule for action. When some folks think that all moral dictums derive from authority, this rule is a counter-example (of course, Rand's idea are a far better counter example).

My thinking is probably a little muddled here, but any light you can shed on it would be appreciated.

Larry Samuels

PS: On a personal note, regarding the "Golden Rule". Do you recall the (favorable) review of the movie "In the Heat of the Night" back in "The Objectivist? I always found books by the author, John Ball, to have a benevolent sense to them, full of people I'd might actually want to know, and generally having good things happen to them. Ball wrote a book "The Fourteenth Point" where an English clergyman, supported by a millionaire sponsor, brings in representatives from every religion -( to try and find common concepts among them all, to provide a framework for the world. Their 13 points fail to be agreed on, but all the last moment, the one common concept (the "Fourteenth Point") among all the religions represented is the 'golden rule' (in many different versions). If true, it may say something both about the universality of the rule, and how religions can occasionally say something smart despite their origin. -)

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