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The Golden Rule (2100 words) (1 Viewer)


I wrote this a couple of months back for a class. I liked the examples I used so I decided to expand and revise it a bit. Here is the most recent draft. I am especially hoping to get some feedback on any logical fallacies I may have made. Any other comments / advice is always very welcome, too! Thanks!

Since before the Pre-Socratic Philosophers of Ancient Greece, mankind has struggled to define right and wrong. Although there is no universal scale to measure what actions are just and which are not, civilization, and the societies it has cradled, have flourished since Mesopotamian times. Although no person in history’s memory has ever known the difference between right and wrong in its most supreme form, man still struggles with fine-tuning his moral fibers by searching for an absolute truth in ethics. This pursuit has led to numerous books, hypothetical situations and maxims which try to narrow the hunt. Nicholas Wade, a journalist for The New York Times, gives the classic example:
Suppose you are standing by a railroad track. Ahead, in a deep cutting from which no escape is possible, five people are walking on the track. You hear a train approaching. Beside you is a lever with which you can switch the train to a sidetrack. One person is walking on the sidetrack. Is it O.K. to pull the lever and save the five people, though one will die?
Most people say it is.
Assume now you are on a bridge overlooking the track. Ahead, five people on the track are at risk. You can save them by throwing down a heavy object into the path of the approaching train. One is available beside you, in the form of a fat man. Is it O.K. to push him to save the five?
Most people say no, although lives saved and lost are the same as in the first problem.
Wade clearly demonstrates that the search for a clear-cut standard by which to judge how one should act towards another has yet to be found. However, man has devised many guides to assist members of human society when deciding how to treat each other. The oldest of these guides is the Golden Rule.
Jesus of Nazareth phrased the Golden Rule as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mathew 7:12). The Rule essentially means for one to treat others as one would like to be treated by others. This so-called maxim has traveled through the centuries uttered by many, in many situations. In The Words We Live By, author Brian Burrell, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, states of the Golden Rule, “ In the booming 1920’s the Western Implement Dealers Association made ‘Obey the Golden Rule!’ the very first precept of its code of ethics. […] From today’s perspective, these breathless endorsements seem quaintly naïve, if not disingenuous” (13). Burrell is referring to the fact that the Golden Rule should no longer be, and should never have been, a maxim, or rule of conduct. Although it may appear to epitomize fairness, when applied to practical situations, the Golden Rule proves to be invalid.
One could imagine an old, tired philosopher lounging in a quaint, fragrant garden pondering the most light-of-consequence ideals. His mind’s eye turns to the Golden Rule. The many years his mind has spent alongside reason gives him the idea to look at the formation of the rule in a hypothetical situation. The Philosopher imagines a new utopia. This utopia arose from a lesser city; it has been achieved by the people in the civilization. They have learned to abide by all laws set to them without deviation. The leaders of this utopia realize that they must rework the set of laws to reflect the change from striving-for-perfection to maintaining perfection. The Philosopher imagines that the Golden Rule would be a fitting law for this utopian society. Because the citizens of a utopia adhere to all laws, the Golden Rule can be effective.
The Philosopher comes to this conclusion and is filled with exuberance. He runs out into the town courtyard and begins to preach the Golden Rule as a path to a utopian civilization. The day is Saturday and the sun is directly overhead. The people who hear his sayings agree that the new rule is a great wonder of intellect and moral and they begin practicing it. Each one wants a utopian society for the betterment of his family. Citizens who have heard the Philosopher’s sermon spread through the city. These people act as charitable as they wish others to be charitable to them. One man finds an old woman who has fallen; he helps her to her feet. A young woman finds a weeping boy who has lost his mother; she finds his mother. A poor farmer finds a well-dressed, foreign young man and gives all the gold he has to the youth; the youth takes it. The youth then demands the farmer to handover his clothes; the farmer complies. The youth undresses and puts the farmer’s rags on. He walks to the courtyard and begins asking the townspeople who have heard the Philosopher’s sermon for money to save his dying (apocryphal) father. By the end of the day, the townspeople are worth half of what they had before the Philosopher gave his sermon. The only one to have actually benefited from the Philosopher’s epiphany is the young man who now preaches the Golden Rule to anyone who will listen.
The Philosopher made a grave mistake when he overlooked a key fact from his own fantasy of the utopian city. The leaders of the city implemented the Golden Rule after the utopian status had been achieved. While the utopian people were striving for a better city, they did not follow the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is one from and for a utopian society. It can only truly be implemented, if at all, in a utopian society because it is only effective if all people act as they should. However, if one, as in the Philosopher’s village, does not abide by it then inequality is created. The people who abide by it are taken advantage of by those who do not. This is ironic and circular; in order for the Golden Rule to be valid it requires people to be fair, even though that is what it preaches.
In actuality, a utopia is hardly imaginable; let alone one with the Golden Rule implemented. For arguments sake, however, one can assume a utopia exists that has leaders and set laws. Now take the masochist’s problem with the Golden Rule. What would happen if a masochist lived in this society? According to the Golden Rule he should cause others physical pain because he would like others to cause him physical pain. It is hard to think that this is a standard by which people should make decisions from.
The Golden Rule also has a paradoxical aspect to it. One could imagine the following conversation occurring between a rich man and a poor man.
Poor Man: “Rich Man, should you not abide by the Golden Rule? Put yourself in my shoes; if you were poor and I was rich, would you not want me to give you a portion of my wealth? So, heed the Golden Rule and spare a dime for a starving man.”
Rich Man: “Poor Man, you ask me to abide by the Golden Rule when you yourself do not. Yes, allow our roles to be reversed; if you were rich and I was poor would you not wish me to never address you? And so, by the Golden Rule, leave me be!”
Poor Man: “Rich Man, quit twisting the logic of a standard rule and give me my money!”
Rich Man: “No! I claim to no paradoxical, self-helping Golden Rule. Let us be rid of this ironic maxim and carry on with our lives as if no Rule was. As to your original question, Poor Man, my answer is no.”
One must understand that the Golden Rule is easily manipulated to help the person who tries to invoke the rule from others. From Poor Man’s perspective, Rich Man should give him money because Rich Man would want Poor Man to do that for him if their economic status were reversed. This is not easily called fair. Why should a man who has worked and earned his wealth hand over a portion to a lazy man. Once again, the Golden Rule ironically works against fairness.
The Golden Rule also has the capability to undermine laws or rules that are meant to keep fairness intact. In the 2006 drama/comedy, Little Miss Sunshine, a family perseveres through several hilarious and touching trials as they travel from New Mexico to enter their daughter into a Californian beauty contest. Worn and tested, the family arrives at the pageant running to sign Olive in before the deadline:
Uncle: [arrives at the registration table first] Hello? Hi, we’d like to register.
Miss Jenkins (Registration Lady): Sorry, we’re closed.
Uncle: Uh, no. We have the entrant right here.
Miss Jenkins: Registration ended at three.
Mother: [Just arrives with the rest of the family] It’s three o’ clock now.
Miss Jenkins: Nooo [She points to a clock that reads 3:04]
Mother: Oh, c’mon, have a heart. We’re four minutes late. We drove all the way from Albuquerque.
Miss Jenkins: Then you shoulda been here by three.
Dad: There must be someway we can work this out. Please?
Miss Jenkins: Everybody else was here before three. I’d be giving an unfair advantage.

Kurby (Tech Guy): Um, Miss Jenkins? I could put ‘em in the system.
Miss Jenkins: Oh Kurby, you don’t have to.
Kurby: No, it’s ok. It’s five minutes.
Miss Jenkins: [Walking away] Well, It’s your time.
In this scene, Kurby and Miss Jenkins are actually the opposing perspectives. According to the Golden Rule, Kurby acted accordingly. If he were in Dad’s shoes and Dad in Kurby’s, Kurby would want Dad to bend the rules. Hence, he does the same for them. However, this is a prime example of the destructive aspect to the Golden Rule. It clearly undermines the rules set down by the pageants administrators. Miss Jenkins is correct to uphold the rules to the letter. The genius British philosopher David Hume wrote of laws with reference to individuals in his book, A Treatise to Human Nature:
A single act of justice is frequently contrary to public interest; and were it to stand alone, without being followed by other acts, may, in itself, be very prejudicial to society. When a man of merit […] restores a great fortune to a miser […] he has acted justly and laudably; but the public is the real sufferer. […] It easily conceived how a man may impoverish himself by a single instance of integrity, and have reason to wish that, with regard to that single act, the laws of justice were for a moment suspended in the universe. But however single acts of justice may be contrary either to public or private interest, it is certain that the whole plan or scheme is highly conductive, or indeed absolutely requisite, both to the support of society, and the well-being of every individual. (Book III, Part II, sec. 2)
Hume clearly believes that, though single acts may be harsh on individuals, justice must prevail to benefit society as a whole. Miss Jenkins, whether she believed the same or not, supported society by opposing the Golden Rule. One might find it ironic that the woman who is enforcing the maintenance of the foundation of a civil society is portrayed as a rude, heartless woman.
On his personal webpage, Jeffrey Wattles, a professor of Philosophy at Kent State University, comments on the Golden Rule, “We often hear that the peoples of our world share the golden rule--Do to others as you want others to do to you--as our most common moral principle. The golden rule, however, is not only a unifying thread among peoples. It is also a principle with many different facets. Bring together the views of many cultures, ancient and modern, and consider the rule through psychology, philosophy, and religion, and you will find a surprisingly dynamic principle” (http://www.personal.kent.edu/~jwattles/index.htm). One can wonder, however, if Wattles has ever observed the flaws of the Golden Rule. It benefits the greedy, is paradoxical, undermines fairness, and slashes at common rules and standards. Society should take an earnest look at the Golden Rule and not only consider revoking its title but think about continuing the search started thousands of years ago. Peoples of Earth should leave it for the books. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw was correct when he said, “The Golden Rule is that there are no golden rules.”

I am planning on changing the title, so any suggestions would be helpful. I am thinking "The Lackluster Rule" or "The Lackluster of the Golden Rule." Hmmm.
Anywho, thanks for reading. Again, any comments are appreciated.:)


Senior Member
you write exceedingly well!... first proposed title is best, imo... second is clunky and semantically incorrect...were it mine, i might go with something more 'punny'... such as, 'The Gold-Plated Rule'... or 'The Golden Rule: Does it Pass the Bite Test?'

love and hugs, maia


I like the titles you suggested, Maia! They made me chuckle :D
I still can not decide, though. This requires more thought! *nod*
Thanks for the advice. I agree that something along those lines is best.


I think this is great to show the illogic of taking the maxim to a fanciful extreme. But by definition, a maxim is "a short and memorable statement of a general principle" (www.answers.com). You would have to convince us that Christ meant men should bow down to worship other men as gods because they wished it done for themselves before you could convince us that the Golden Rule is fallacious.


Ya, I realized that when I was outlining this piece. I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't be able to do that, and any attempt would weaken the essay. Most people understand that the Golden Rule is a guideline. But, I earnestly argued that it is a flawed law because the negative aspects would hit harder.
One of the worst things you could do when arguing is admit that your point might be irrelevant. When one realizes that the Golden Rule is more of a guideline, it is easy to see that the points I make are not really important. I wrote this for argument's sake, basically. It is fun to think about, but really not as important as finding flaws in an actual law.

Thank you for pointing out the definition of 'maxim'. I should change that (the word choice, not the definition...).
And thank you for the feedback, you made a very valid point