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Thread: Empathy vs. the golden rule

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    Empathy vs. the golden rule

    I think the golden rule is irrational and here's why. First of all, the golden rule presupposes that other people share your preferences. Secondly, I believe that an action is moral only if it minimizes suffering or increases happiness (hedonistic consequentialism). The golden rule sometimes increases suffering and minimizes happiness. If you followed the golden rule consistently and you found a 7 year old who wanted to experiment with heroin, you wouldn't be justified in preventing them from doing so. If you wouldn't want anyone violating your autonomy and telling you what to do with your body, are you justified in violating someone's elses? I would say 'yes' because although we should generally respect the autonomy of other people, we're justified in violating someone's autonomy if it prevents more distress than it causes.



    Another example. If you knew that your best friend's wife was cheating on him but it could be absolutely guaranteed that he would never find out, she was a loving partner and they had a happy relationship together, would you be justified in telling him? I would argue 'no' because as long as his wife's infidelity is not causing him to suffer or depriving him of happiness (I say this because killing someone in their sleep would deprive them of happiness even if it could be done painlessly), there's nothing morally wrong with it. You can argue that he has a right to know but I believe happiness is more important than knowledge, it's the only thing in the universe that is intrinsically valuable and distress is the only thing that is intrinsically disvaluable, everything else is only instrumentally valuable or disvaluable to the extent that they increase pleasure or pain. He might appreciate your having told him and think he was better off for it but it wouldn't make him any happier and feeling happiness/not suffering is all that matters. Telling him on the basis that he'd want to know the truth is nonsensical because in order to want to know something, you would have to know it. What people want is to be able to genuinely believe that what they know is true. Your desire to know the truth is satisfied as long as you believe that you know the truth, whether or not it actually is true is irrelevant.



    I could go on but you get the idea. I believe that empathy (which I define as imagining another person's emotional state of mind and adopting it out of identification with them) is the only valid basis for a moral framework and if you based all of your moral decisions on empathy and empathy alone (concern and the desire to help others is not necessarily empathetic), you would naturally adopt a hedonistic/consequentialist world view. What do you think?

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    I will bite... What's "the golden rule"?
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    Orwellian The Atheist's Avatar
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    Not what African Love thinks.

    The Golden Rule has always been summed up thus: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    I don't see how that gets me giving a 7-year old heroin. Unless I want to do some smack as well...
    Go to work, get married, have some kids, pay your taxes, pay your bills, watch your tv, follow fashion, act normal, obey the law and repeat after me: "I am free."

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Atheist View Post
    Not what African Love thinks.

    The Golden Rule has always been summed up thus: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    I don't see how that gets me giving a 7-year old heroin. Unless I want to do some smack as well...
    Not giving a 7 year old heroin, allowing a 7 year old to experiment with heroin. You wouldn't want someone to violate your autonomy so, according to the golden rule, you shouldn't violate anyone else's. Violating someone's autonomy isn't what's bad, it's the distress that you cause someone when you violate their autonomy that's bad. Sometimes it is necessary to cause people some amount of stress to prevent even worse stress. This is why I no longer consider myself an anarchist but pro-welfare state, that's another topic I guess.

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Atheist View Post

    The Golden Rule has always been summed up thus: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
    Oh, that Golden Rule...
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    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
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    Orwellian The Atheist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    Not giving a 7 year old heroin, allowing a 7 year old to experiment with heroin.
    Makes no difference.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    You wouldn't want someone to violate your autonomy so, according to the golden rule, you shouldn't violate anyone else's.
    Nope.

    Seven year olds don't have any kind of autonomy. Legally, morally or factually.

    The hypothetical is a fail.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    Violating someone's autonomy isn't what's bad, it's the distress that you cause someone when you violate their autonomy that's bad. Sometimes it is necessary to cause people some amount of stress to prevent even worse stress. This is why I no longer consider myself an anarchist but pro-welfare state, that's another topic I guess.


    Anarchist to socialist, that is a huge leap!

    I don't buy the "violating autonomy" argument anyway, as there are people in the world whose physical or mental state can mean they are unable to have autonomy anyway. Small children also fall into this group.
    Go to work, get married, have some kids, pay your taxes, pay your bills, watch your tv, follow fashion, act normal, obey the law and repeat after me: "I am free."

    Anon

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    Nope.

    Seven year olds don't have any kind of autonomy. Legally, morally or factually.

    The hypothetical is a fail.
    I don't see how. By 'autonomy', I mean the capacity to make all decisions regarding your body as you see fit. If a 7 year old wants to stay up late and you make them go to bed, you are violating their autonomy, that is, you are preventing them from making independent decisions or doing what they want to do.




    Anarchist to socialist, that is a huge leap!
    Traditionally, anarchists have been socialists. Only in North America is 'libertarianism' associated with laissez faire capitalism. Anyways, I'm not a socialist. Socialism advocates worker ownership/control of means of production, no private property. Liberalism advocates a regulated, capitalist free market.



    I don't buy the "violating autonomy" argument anyway, as there are people in the world whose physical or mental state can mean they are unable to have autonomy anyway. Small children also fall into this group.
    I don't think a 7 year old would (an infant, sure). I'm not sure what you mean when you say you don't buy the 'violating autonomy' argument, what argument do you think I'm making? Do you mean you don't buy the idea that it's wrong to violate someone autonomy or what? If I want wear my hair a certain way and you put a gun to my head and force me to wear it differently, what are you doing?

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    Orwellian The Atheist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    I don't see how. By 'autonomy', I mean the capacity to make all decisions regarding your body as you see fit. If a 7 year old wants to stay up late and you make them go to bed, you are violating their autonomy, that is, you are preventing them from making independent decisions or doing what they want to do.
    Yes, but because human children are not self sufficient, autonomy doesn't exist. To have autonomy in any meaningful way, a human needs to be at least self-sufficient. Seven year old are not capable of being self-sufficient.
    Go to work, get married, have some kids, pay your taxes, pay your bills, watch your tv, follow fashion, act normal, obey the law and repeat after me: "I am free."

    Anon

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    "I don't see how. By 'autonomy', I mean the capacity to make all decisions regarding your body as you see fit. If a 7 year old wants to stay up late and you make them go to bed, you are violating their autonomy, that is, you are preventing them from making independent decisions or doing what they want to do."

    So if one prevents a delusional schizophrenic from jumping of the roof to see if he can fly, its morally wrong ?

    There are groups of people like children and the mentally ill who do not have autonomy over their actions and thus subjecting them to the rules above makes no sense.

    But even then the golden rule makes sense, if you were about to jump of the roof due to some delusion, would you want somebody to stop you ?

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    I feel like I'm suffering from memory loss, weren't you a Libertarian like 5 months ago, African Love?

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    The OP has me confused, I have to say. It implies that the two are mutually exclusive. i would hope that I behave in such a way that I would harm no-one, but if somebody has a problem, I would equally hope that I can empathize with them. Example. I would not take drugs, but if I met someone who was suffering problems as a result of having done so, I would hope I would try to empathize as best I could.
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    Perhaps the golden rule should be changed - instead of doing what you would like others to do to you, do what would cause the same emotion as you would want to feel. Which is essentially happiness/satisfaction.

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    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    Another example. If you knew that your best friend's wife was cheating on him but it could be absolutely guaranteed that he would never find out, she was a loving partner and they had a happy relationship together, would you be justified in telling him? I would argue 'no' because as long as his wife's infidelity is not causing him to suffer or depriving him of happiness (I say this because killing someone in their sleep would deprive them of happiness even if it could be done painlessly), there's nothing morally wrong with it. You can argue that he has a right to know but I believe happiness is more important than knowledge, it's the only thing in the universe that is intrinsically valuable and distress is the only thing that is intrinsically disvaluable, everything else is only instrumentally valuable or disvaluable to the extent that they increase pleasure or pain. He might appreciate your having told him and think he was better off for it but it wouldn't make him any happier and feeling happiness/not suffering is all that matters.
    I don't think I followed most of this which is a good reason not to respond, but I find the question curious. So I'll risk embarrassing myself.

    The part I marked above in bold is what I would disagree with. I don't think pleasure and pain are enough to determine if something is good or bad. If you put your finger in a fire, you feel pain. That pain was not bad. It was your body telling you to stop putting your finger in the fire.

    Also pleasure sometimes comes first and then pain comes as a consequence later. To twist the original example a bit, suppose it is you who are having the affair with your friend's wife. There is some initial pleasure. There are many ways in which that pleasure can quickly turn to pain which I will leave to the imagination. Suppose one of them occurs. Was the initial pleasure still good? Was the resulting pain bad?

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    To be, or not to be. misterreplicant's Avatar
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    I believe we all have our own "Golden Rule". It's composed of our personal values in life and how you picture a "Perfect World" if you will.

    Just thought I'd put that one in there, just talking about the Golden Rule and all...
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    Orwellian The Atheist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misterreplicant View Post
    I believe we all have our own "Golden Rule". It's composed of our personal values in life and how you picture a "Perfect World" if you will.

    Just thought I'd put that one in there, just talking about the Golden Rule and all...
    I have a friend who has a personal one:

    Do others before they do you.

    (He's a car salesman!)
    Go to work, get married, have some kids, pay your taxes, pay your bills, watch your tv, follow fashion, act normal, obey the law and repeat after me: "I am free."

    Anon

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