Neil Duxbury


This article examines “Golden Rule reasoning” — reasoning according to the principle that we should treat others as we would have them treat us — as a basis for moral action and as a criterion for assessing the moral quality and implications of judicial decisions, legal rules, and proposals for legal reform. After distinguishing the Golden Rule from other ideas and principles with which it is sometimes associated, I embark upon a defense of the Golden Rule as a principle of fairness. The main approach to defending this principle has been to detach Golden Rule-based behavior from the desires of agents and recipients. The purpose of adopting this approach is to avoid reducing the Golden Rule to the proposition that we are entitled to impose on others preferences that we would happily have imposed on us. I examine various attempts to show that the Golden Rule requires that agents do not simply project their values and desires onto others and I argue that the most successful of these is RM. Hare's explanation of Golden Rule reasoning in universal prescriptivist terms. Although the universal prescriptivist explanation is open to various criticisms — as becomes obvious when it is applied to particular moral problems such as euthanasia and abortion — it nevertheless provides a strong philosophical basis for claiming not only that Golden Rule reasoning need not be connected to particular tastes and preferences but also that, as a matter of moral principle, we should never tolerate double standards where cases are relevantly similar. While I accept and try to demonstrate the merits of interpreting the Golden Rule in universal prescriptivist terms, however, I conclude that a more robust interpretation of the Rule is one which is advanced by some natural law philosophers and which offers a philosophical justification for the proposition that doing to others as one would have done to oneself is necessarily a case of doing good towards others. The article ends with some reflections on the implications of this version of Golden Rule reasoning for legal policymaking, and in particular for the abortion debate. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.



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