“In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility.
‘T0 do as you would be done by,’ and ‘to love your neighbour as yourself,’
constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.!
John Stuart Mill
The golden rule is a philosophical and religious guideline, lying at the heart of the world’s religions. It is clearly necessary that the majority of people abide by it to a significant degree in order for a society, and indeed the world, to function in a liberal and democratic fashion.
But what about those who do not apply it, who get a ‘free ride’ on the back of those who do – think of thieves, frausters, tax evaders, or even those who will not have children vaccinated against life-threatening diseases that are almost eradicated. This and many other interesting philosophical questions is raised in Daniel Klein’s 2015 book Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life They Change It. I doubt this could be called a serious philosophical work, but it certainly provides an entertaining tour through some of the issues that philosophers have considered over the centuries, starting with the Ancient Greeks and up to the modern day.
Klein covers the thinking of modern American psychologist/philosopher Joshua Greene on the golden rule. We have two fundamentally different ways of making moral decisions – fast and instinctive and slow and deliberative [right brain/left brain]. In fast instinctive mode we automatically apply inborn altruism (golden rule) to our family and tribe; in slow and deliberative mode we apply it to everybody (greatest good of the greatest number – logical). It is suggested we try to get the two modes to talk to each other. Of course, this is similar to the the left-right brain reconciliation aimed at in Iain MacGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary.
To me, this question is one of values and levels of consciousness. As we reach levels where empathy and compassion become fully conscious drivers, we will all perhaps achieve behaviours more consonant with the golden rule. We are not rule-based computers.
Do read Daniel Klein’s book for an entertaining tour of philosophical ideas.