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Discussion 1 to Reflections on Ethics 99
In Defence of the Golden Rule

by: Collin Merenoff

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I think what's important about the Golden Rule is that (theoretically) it cuts short the usual biases that result from a resolve to treat others the way they want. If the other person is in any way a member of a less privileged group, there's a natural tendency to attribute to them something less than the full complement of human emotions you recognize in yourself.

In your example, the feeling of religious enthusiasm is an explicit function of a bound variable, religious affiliation. Properly applied, the Golden Rule exchanges the value of the bound variable between the two people, so you assume the other person is enthusiastic about their religion, not yours.

But often there is no bound variable, or at least no explicit dependence. Some moralists simply fabricate a variable or dependence.

As an example, look at Cultural Language, Linguistics, & the Ebonics Debate in the Daily Kos and specifically at the comment by Grover near the top of the comment section. Note how he uses the obscure term "code switch", subtly changes the focus from language to skin color, and claims it isn't offensive. The common-sense notions -- that a language standard is merely an ideal, that everyone has a dialect, and that there's something suspicious when a dialect of English highly correlated with a minority is taught as a separate standard while all others are ignored -- are thrown out the window.

I think the Golden Rule is a good defence against such idiocy.


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