In his essay, “The Golden Rule- One or Many, Gold or Glitter?” Jeffrey Wattles discusses the many carnations of the universal rule, “Do to others as you want others to do to you”, and its influence on the way we live. This widespread advice from the Gods found in almost every religion is under scrutiny; “Is the rule golden? In other words, is it worthy to be cherished as a rule of living or even as the rule of living?”(Inquiry, p#237, paragraph 10)
As Wattles examines it further, he comes to the conclusion that while the Golden Rule is good guideline, it is no rule to live by. He reasons that while the Golden Rule’s wisdom might be helpful, to live exclusively by it is folly, as the answer to life cannot be formulated in a mere rule, golden or not. Rather, to consider this rule found in so many cultures as a jumping off point and elaborate or simplify as the specific situation requires. I was intrigued by his outlook on such a rudimentary rule that I have never thought twice about. While good advice, I would have to agree that as a rule or as the rule, it doesn’t hold up.
I think that a rule is always fallible when it comes to ethics and you’re better off on your individual sense of right and wrong. “Some writers have put the rule on a pedestal, giving the impression that the rule is sufficient for ethics in the sense that no one could ever go wrong by adhering to it or in the sense that all duties may be inferred from it.” (Inquiry, p#237, paragraph 12)
Wattles goes on to contend that while you may want something for yourself, that does not mean someone else would agree. So in doing unto other as you would have them do unto you, there is room for error. “The golden rule may also seem to imply that what we want for ourselves is good for ourselves and that what is good for ourselves is good for others.” (Inquiry, p#238, paragraph 16) Not only could what we want for ourselves not be good, but assuming that other wants the same is unwise and somewhat self-centered.
In concluded his examination of the golden rule Wattles offers us several ways to consider the rule. “Abandon the rule, reformulate it, or retain is as commonly worded, while taking advantage of objections to clarify its proper interpretation. I take the third way” (Inquiry, p#240, paragraph 24) And I would have to agree with him.