Golden Rule

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golden rule

So the Golden Rule goes something like this:  treat others as you want to be treated.  But there is a classic problem with this formulation what if you want to be treated in perverse ways?  We can call this the Problem of Perverse Desires.  What if I, for example, like being spanked by strangers in public?  Does that mean that I can do this to others?  I’d be treating them the way I want to be treated

How should we deal with this problem?  There are two strategies.  First, one can use the Golden Rule as a general rule of thumb.  A moral rule that will get you the right answer most of the time (unless you have really messed up desires.)

Second, one can elevate the level of abstraction.  Perhaps in the spanking case above one may respond with something like:  the person who likes being spanked should not infer that it is okay to spank others, rather he should infer that he ought not to do to other people what they dislike.  The principle that the odd spanker should get from reflection on the Golden Rule is something like:  don’t touch other people unless they want it.  This may be a generally good principle, but it is very different from the original formulation of the Golden Rule.  There is no reference, for example, to the desires of the person making the moral choice.

In general, I think that the first approach is the best option.  This principle should be taken as a general heuristic which will usually give you the right moral answer but not always.