Comment of the Day: “The Golden Rule Distortions”


In a comment on the post about the various versions of the Golden Rule, including popular distortions of it, Isaac revisited the ever-popular “Les Misérables” scenario, in which a desperate man steals a loaf of bread to achieve a greater good. Is such law-breaking still unethical? I have consistently maintained that it is from society’s standpoint, if not from the perspective of the lawbreaker. The issue has arisen in the past in relation to illegal immigration.I think Isaac nails it.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, The Golden Rule Distortions: Continue reading

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The Golden Rule Distortions

golden-rule distortedA recent unpleasant visitor here sought to defend unethical conduct—or perhaps it is more accurate to say that she argued that no one was qualified to assess the conduct as unethical—by citing the hoary theory that only someone who has “walked in the shoes” of the wrongdoer in question may judge the ethical nature of his actions. This is a dodge, of course, and one which I need to add to the list of rationalizations. It is an appeal to purely subjective ethics, and ultimately no ethical standards at all, since if every individual is the only one who can judge his own or her own conduct (since each individual’s experiences are unique), then everyone is free to construct their own ethics rules that seem right from their self-centered perspective. The argument is also a convenient way to shut off dissenting voices: only the poor have standing to criticize the poor, only blacks can find fault with the acts of African-Americans, and since men can’t get pregnant, how dare they have any opinion at all on abortion?

But before I added this irritating trick to the Rationalizations List—I think it will be called “The Foreign Shoes Defense”—I realized that it is also another one of The Golden Rule distortions: flawed ethical arguments that seem logical to some because they are based on a warped version of the principle of reciprocity.

The Golden Rule, usually stated as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is frequently attributed to Jesus, but in fact it is much, much older, and is a basic ethical tenet, reciprocity, of most religions and many philosophies. Here are some examples; there are many, many more: Continue reading

Lessons From The Defenders Of The Wise-Ass “A”

Back at the beginning of the month, some obscure corners of the web were buzzing over the picture of a purported student exam that ranked an “A..Nice job!” despite the student’s smug punt at the end. Here it is…the section in the square is the section of the student’s answer that provoked widespread indignation at the grade. I first saw it in a post titled: “Some teachers don’t even care any more”:


To be fair, there are many and diverse possible interpretations of this evidence, and not enough context to choose among them. It could be a hoax, for example. The teacher may indeed have skimmed the answer, and not read the paragraph in question. The student’s answer may have already covered the topic sufficiently to justify an “A” (in the teacher’s judgment), and the teacher may have decided to ignore the non sequitur, stream of consciousness ending.

Or perhaps the teacher was like my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Cosloy. (If you are out there reading this, Mr. C—thanks for the memories!) Mr. Cosloy was a terrific teacher who had a healthy dose of cynicism about the way school operated, as well as a well-developed sense of humor. He poked fun at the process all the time, and allowed his students to do the same as long as they also did the work he assigned and showed some progress toward mastering the subject. I felt comfortable writing asides and irreverent commentary on his tests, and on at least one occasion he wrote on one of them that my answers were only worth a B, but he had given me a B+ because I made him laugh twice. We don’t know what the relationship was between the student who allegedly wrote the test answer above and the teacher grading it. Heck, that teacher might have been Mr. Cosloy…

Thus, I was not going to write yet another “here’s more proof that our schools are going to hell” post, though our schools are indeed going to hell. What intrigued me about the episode were some of the comments about it, especially this one, from a Bridgemont Community and Technical College professor named Machelle Kindle: Continue reading