Golden Rule/Silver Rule

Someone brought up the Golden Rule. There is also a Silver Rule. What’s the relationship between them, and what’s wrong with both of them?

Silver Rule: “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”
Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

1. The Silver Rule is less demanding than the Golden Rule. Therefore, it is more realistic because it is easier (for humans) to obey. The Golden Rule requires that we act positively (do something) to benefit others; the Silver Rule simply prohibits certain kinds of harm to others (the kinds of harm that we would not want inflicted on ourselves). We would not want our legal system to be based on the Golden Rule, would we? It asks too much; most people cannot obey it consistently; most people would frequently violate the law in a system governed by the Golden Rule. A legal system based on the Silver Rule would not result in making most people criminals.

2. There are (at least) two main objections to both the Silver Rule and the Golden Rule. One is the masochist-sadist objection. Both rules permit harm to unwilling others as long as the perpetrator wishes to have the same kind of harm inflicted on her/himself. Neither rule rules out all unjustifiable harm to others.

The other objection is that both rules are ego-centric: they make our conduct toward others dependent on our own wishes for ourselves. Why should my treatment of others be grounded on my own self-centered desires?

Neither the Golden Rule nor the Silver Rule is adequate as a general principle of moral conduct, which each pretends to be.

None of the objections listed above applies to “the Principle of Non-Harm,” which is:

It is always morally wrong to intentionally harm another person without good cause or sufficient justification.

This moral rule is superior to both the Silver Rule and the Golden Rule, isn’t it? (1) It can be obeyed by most (perhaps all) people (true also of the Silver Rule but not of the Golden Rule); (2) it rules out all unjustifiable harm to others (which neither the Silver Rule nor the Golden Rule does); and (3) it is not ego-centric (as both the Silver Rule and the Golden Rule are).

Of course, there are questions about what constitutes a good cause and/or a sufficient justification. But that’s another story…. 😎

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