In an age plagued by selfishness, materialism, and violence, ethicists feel impelled to find a universal system of values. To arrive at such a "rule" requires that they struggle with a series of seemingly irreconcilable questions. First, are universal values possible in a pluralistic world, and how does one do justice to both human equality and to individual and cultural differences? How is one to understand the interface between religious moral teachings and the ethics of secular humanism? Finally, can such a system integrate moral intuition and moral reason? In the first scholarly book in English on the golden rule since the seventeenth century, Jeffrey Wattles demonstrates how a clear understanding of the psychological, philosophical, and religious ramifications of the rule can form the synthesis needed to solve these dilemas.
The golden rule, "do to others as you would have others do to you," is widely assumed to have a single meaning, shared by virtually all the world's religions. It strikes the average person as intuitively true, though most modern philosophers reject it or recast it in more rational form. Wattles surveys the history of the golden rule and its spectrum of meanings in diverse contexts, ranging from Confusius to Plato and Aristotle, from classical Jewish literature to the New Testament. He also considers medieval, Reformation, and modern theological and philosophical responses and objections to the rule, as well as how some early twentieth-century American leaders have tried to use the rule. Wattles draws these diverse interpretation into a synthesis that responds, at the psychological, philosophical, and religious levels, to the challenges to moral living in any given culture. Emotionally, the rules counsels consideration for others feelings by asking that "you place yourself in their shoes." Intellectually, it activates moral thinking about what is fair. At the same time, it retains a spiritual appeal as "the principle of the practice of the family of God."
Demonstrating how, despite its contentious history, this age-old ethical principle contiues to be relevant in dealing with contemporary issues, The Golden Rule should interest students and scholars working in religious studies, philosophy and ethics, and psychology, as well as anyone looking for an alternative to postmodern cynicism and alienation.