Why should we follow the principle that, when applying the Golden Rule, we should act so as to preserve, protect and promote the Golden Rule itself?
Well, if you subscribed to the Rule would you want others to preserve, protect and promote the Rule? Yes? Then you should preserve, protect and promote the Rule yourself.
But why would we want others to preserve, protect and promote the Rule? One obvious response is that the more the Rule is preserved, protected and promoted, the more everyone benefits, particularly those who subscribe to the Rule. At least, that is what those who subscribe to the Rule would think.
I do not see this as a vicious circle. It is not as if we have arbitrarily designated a set of individuals who have a greater right to having their interests taken into account than others. Those who are closer to the ‘Golden’ end of the spectrum (see Publish and be damned) are not being favoured arbitrarily. If they are ‘favoured’ this will only be as a by-product of preserving, protecting and promoting the Rule which they subscribe to. We are explicitly stating that the Rule is a good thing. We are not trying to explain its goodness by deriving it from something more fundamental.
Criticism of the Rule can come from different directions. We have considered a number of objections so far: see Going platinum, Self self self, Good Samaritan, Crime and punishment, Conflict and compassion, Value pluralism and the Golden Rule, The miller, his son and the donkey and Publish and be damned. But all these objections acknowledge that the Rule is a good thing, or at least has a good intention behind it. What they question is how effective or complete or coherent it is. So what we have tried to show is that interpreting the Rule more generously, which the Rule itself would insist on, can neutralise these objections.
A very different line of attack would be to question its rationality. If obeying the Rule is a way to be moral, why be moral? This attack comes in at least two different flavours.
One is related to Kant’s promotion of his categorical imperative. He doesn’t attack the Rule itself for being irrational, but for being ‘banal’ and ineffective. He recognises the need for something like the Rule, but he thinks that something must be better than the Rule if it is to serve as the rational foundation of morality. The implication is therefore that without something like his categorical imperative, morality itself – and therefore the Rule – could be attacked as irrational.
Another flavour is to do with the apparent conundrum that the evolution of morality represents. If evolution is driven by natural selection, then that implies that only those organisms which as individuals survive to reproduce are the ones which get to pass their genetic material on to future generations. Which in turn would seem to imply that changes making an organism more competitive in the struggle for survival will be selected for, not changes making an organism more cooperative, let alone altruistic.
An interesting question is then where to place that insight, if insight is what it is. One could for example take the view that cooperation and altruism are undoubtedly good things but see them as somehow ‘against nature’, and be puzzled about how they arrived on the scene. Or one could suspect that perhaps they might not be good things after all, if they truly are against nature. Or perhaps one could insist that there must eventually be an explanation as to how they emerged, which then may – or indeed may not? – explain why they are good things.
© Chris Lawrence 2018.