The Paradox of the Golden Rule

         5-1.  The Christian version of the golden rule first appears in Matthew 7:12: "As
        you would have others do unto you, do you also unto them."
              This principle is the simplest expression of the agápe concept in Christian ethics:
        the idea of unconditional commitment to the welfare of others.  For purposes of
        explicating a system of Christian ethics, I shall further conceptualize the golden rule
        (the agápe idea) as a principle of both altruism and non-retributivism, with the latter
        derivative of the former.  That is, the reason that we should not retribute evil for evil
        is because of our altruistic concern for the other person, even if that person is the
        aggressor, the transgressor.
              On this interpretation, the golden rule is not merely a method or procedure for
        making ethical decisions.  It has substantive ethical content.  For example, there is the
        negative requirement not to avenge evil deeds, as well as the positive requirements
        to return good for evil in all circumstances, and to do good deeds without expecting
        any reward.  On such a view, the golden rule is much more than a simple principle
        of empathic identification with no substantive ethical content: it has non-retributive
        content, derivable from the requirement of perfect altruism.
         5-2.  As a constitutive principle for a social order on the Christian ideal, the golden
        rule can be considered as both a principle of justice and a principle of forgiveness,
        with absolutely no contradiction.
              In other words, "justice" in the mature Christian sense has nothing at all to do with
        retribution, but everything to do with non-retribution.  Since one aspect of non-
        retribution is "forgiveness," a society based on a constitutive principle of non-
        retribution would be society in which the just thing to do would be always to forgive
        others for their moral errors.         
             The just society, so conceived, would also be one in which persons did not
        demand rewards as a condition of their benevolent deeds: their altruism would be
        complete and perfect.  
         5-3.  If the golden rule is the core principle of a conception of true justice, then its
        non-retributive component can best be understood by counterposing it to its opposite:
        the retributive conception of justice found in the Mosaic Law (as well as in a variety of
        other ethical and religious systems).  On such conceptions, justice is a matter of
        getting what one deserves, whether that moral desert be reward for virtue or
        punishment for vice.  Christian justice, on the interpretation offered here, has nothing
        at all to do with the concept of moral desert.
              That is, the Christian conception abjures the idea of trying to allocate unto others
        their "just desert," emphasizing instead the requirement always to do good unto
        others, no matter how they have treated us, individually or collectively.  It is even
        conceivable that a mature Christian view must transcend the very idea of moral desert
        entirely, emphasizing the lack of moral understanding as the reason for sin.  It is possi-
        ble, that is, that persons sin out of ignorance or lack of understanding, not out of any
        inherent perversity in human nature.
             Even Jesus is said to have "increased in wisdom" (Luke 2:52), and perhaps his
        wisdom culminated in his final teaching, in the idea that persons sin primarily out of
        ignorance or incomplete understanding: "Father, forgive them, for they know not
        what they do." (Luke 23:34)
             Since this interpretation presents difficulties, it seems safer for the moment to say
        that we should all be selfless and merciful simply because we should try to be more
        like God, who is the source of all goodness: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your
        Father which is in heaven is perfect."  (Matthew 5:48)
         5-4.  Yet, if God is perfect, and if one ought to try to be as perfect as God, then
        one must ask what the divine response must be to evil-doing.  I believe that, even if
        persons are fully responsible for their deeds, God does not retribute evil for evil.  That
        is, a God who is so perfect as to be incapable of lying surely could never act in any
        evil capacity, including acting according to the primitive retributive conception of
        justice and thereby requiting evil for evil.  And, if God always retributes good for evil,
        then how could we who are so much less worthy justifiably do otherwise?
             On the other hand, if persons first err from a lack of wisdom or understanding, then the
        case for forgiveness and for returning good for evil is even stronger.  That is, if human
        folly derives from some original sin of ignorance, then the proper response to those
        lacking in understanding is to treat them with understanding, toleration, and patience
        (which may be all that "forgiveness" really amounts to in practice).  If this is the divine
        response to human folly, then could the human side of obligation justifiably be more
             Regardless, then, of the degree of culpability in the moral failure of another, our
        response must always be the same: always to return good for evil, whether we are
        acting on behalf of ourselves as individuals or on behalf of collectivities.
             Therefore the golden rule is not merely an ethical principle for moral individuals,
        but a principle for moral communities, including entire societies.  It is a social and
        political principle as well.
         5-5.  What if persons are fully culpable for their misdeeds?  What if they do indeed
        know full well the scope of their evil, and yet persist in that evil?  If so, then they must
        rationalize their misdeeds as being other than evil, and thus false or incomplete moral
        learning persists and even deepens through self-deception.  Moral confusion results
        and the person feels "lost," truly no longer knowing what is right and what is wrong.
             The remedy here ultimately lies with God, for only God is qualified to look into
        persons' hearts and make the judgment of depravity, if such it be.  Therefore, if some
        kind of chastisement is required, only God knows what is required and exactly how
        the cure is to be effected.  My own belief is that, even in such recalcitrant cases, God's
        methods are not punitive but redemptive: they represent a kind of benign "surgery"
        on the soul.       
             No human being is capable of making such moral diagnoses or prescribing the
        cures: the role of inducing repentance is God's alone, and it is a sacrilege to suggest
        that it should be done by human beings or by their institutions.  The best that we can
        do is to try to offer a worthy example and our best rational arguments (and on a
        voluntary basis at that).  I believe that, in so doing, we follow the divine example of
        Jesus of Nazareth.
             There is much gentleness in divine chastisement: it is a wonderful thing to fall into
        the hands of the living God, for whatever pain we may feel during the process of
        divine correction results solely from the resistance which we exert in resisting divine
        correction, in rationalizing and defending our misdeeds.  God surely does not will the
        sense of punishment that we feel when we are on the verge of repentance.  God wills
        instead that we admit our error, recommit ourselves to the right course, and accept
        the blessings of spiritual renewal.
             Even in chastisement, that is, the concept of ag pe is the expression of the infinite
        goodness of the divine Being.
            5-6.  Human beings can presume to emulate God only in the requirement of trying
        to use the most perfect, most gentle means: human beings are not omniscient and
        certainly may not rationally try to emulate God in all things, especially not in assessing
        the worth of a soul, its moral condition, or the cure for its pathologies.
         Compare, however, the simple categorical teaching of Christ not to judge others
        (Matthew 7:1) with the revisionist view espoused by Paul in his confused and
        contradictory statements about judgment.  (See I Corinthians 6:2-3 and associated
        passages in particular.)
              The most powerful corollary of the golden rule is precisely this requirement not to
        judge others, for judgment is the foundation for punishment, war, and innumerable
        other abuses against other human beings.    
         5-7.  If it sounds preposterous even to suggest the possibility that our moral
        failings derive originally from our imperfect wisdom or understanding (implying that
        we are not yet fully responsible for our evil tendencies and actions), then consider
        how it might be that the temptation to sin could possibly be finally conquered if it
        were otherwise: it would be a strange heaven if the temptation to sin were not
        conquered once and for all, and it difficult to imagine how this final triumph is to
        occur if not through the completion of our moral growth and understanding.  Then
        we should be fully responsible for our actions, but perhaps with full moral responsi-
        bility would come perfectly responsible moral action: we should finally be beyond the
        power of sin or temptation.  No further apostasy would be possible.  In other words,
        heaven as a perfect state of being implies not merely the absence of temptation, but
        the perfection of the soul such that, even if external temptation should present itself,
        it would have no force at all upon the individual.  
              That is, heaven would not be a place or state of being where sheer will succeeds
        in winning the battle against temptation, but where the power of understanding has
        so vitiated the forces of evil that they no longer possess any compelling attraction for
        the psyche: there would be, that is, no desire to do wrong, and thus no real tempta-
        tion in the psychological sense, regardless of what external opportunities might
        present themselves.
             It can be seen from these kinds of considerations that both our theology and our
        eschatology have ethical implications.  This is the central reason that a secular
        reduction of Christian ethics is impossible.
         5-8.  As "Jesus increased in wisdom," so does each one of us grow or progress.
        Indeed, entire cultures and religious traditions likewise grow and evolve in terms of
        their moral understanding.
             For example, while it is true that retributive themes and language are present in
        various Christian teachings, it seems best to consider these as a residue of the
        retributive culture out of which Christianity evolved and is still evolving.  Some of
        these retributive usages in the New Testament may also be attributable to bad
        reporting by those who witnessed but did not understand the full revolutionary
        significance of the teachings of the Christ.
         5-9.  Not only the Mosaic Law, but the "modern" idea of the "rule of law" is an
        inherently retributive conception, since both rewards and retaliatory responses
        ("punishment") are used to enforce compliance with the law.  The non-retributive and
        altruistic principles inhering in the golden rule, by contrast, depend entirely upon the
        force of individual conscience, guided by the Spirit of God, as the basic force for
        ordering society.  (If such principles were universally understood and accepted, then
        we would have the "Kingdom of Heaven" in all of its fullness, a "kingdom" which
        already exists for those who choose to live by its tenets in an imperfect world.)
         It is possible to speak of the non-retributive conception of justice as supplanting
        entirely the older retributive conception of the Mosaic Law (as well as inhering in
        social contract theory and a variety of other conceptions).  In all truly retributive
        systems of thought, social order is assumed to depend on the expectation of some
        kind of payback (from "tribute," or "pay," which is the core concept of retribution:
        repay).  To the extent that the golden rule abjures any kind of "payback," it implies
        that one should not make a reward (a positive "payback") a condition of one's
        benevolence, and it implies as well that one should not "repay" evil for evil, as is the
        case in all instances of retaliation.
              It can also be seen that the non-retributive conception, in abjuring both reward and
        punishment, implies the end of manipulative and coercive practices and institutions:
        it implies, that is, a conception of the social order in which persons are as free as is
        possible, constrained only by a divinely-inspired conscience, not by the fallible judg-
        ment of other human beings.
         5-10.  If one says that it is out of fear that one achieves virtue, then one is, I
        believe, a retributivist at heart, whether avowedly so or not.  If one says, to the
        contrary, that it is out of understanding or wisdom that one finally becomes a virtuous
        person, then the retributive quest to determine blame and allocate punishment is seen
        to be misguided and likely to result in the perpetuation of injustice.
              All retaliatory devices employ fear as the ultimate motivator.  This reliance upon
        fear is thus the ultimate foundation of retribution.  (Even with "reward" systems, there
        is the fear that the rewards may be withheld.)  It is no accident that a retributive
        conception of justice derives from a theological tradition in which God is to be feared,
        whereas a non-retributive conception of justice derives from a theological tradition
        which emphasizes above all the redeeming and forgiving aspects of divine "justice."
             In actual biblical traditions, of course, both conceptions tend to be mixed up to
        some extent.  Although the non-retributive conception is attributed more or less
        consistently to Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament, and the non-retributive
        conception finds it fullest explication in the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament, there
        are enough exceptions to these generalizations that one wants to be careful in
        assigning a strict biblical interpretation to either conception.
              These difficulties are compounded by realities in existing religious traditions: many
        Jews are pacifists, and many nominal Christians are retributivists with respect to both
        punishment and war.  
         5-11.  Perhaps one is on safer ground to claim to be expounding an "ideal type"
        Christian ethic, in the Weberian sense: what Christian ethics would be if one could
        find a perfect model of it, a perfect and complete expository statement of it.
             The Bible, compiled from fallible human witness with the assistance of other
        fallible human beings, unfortunately does not qualify.  There is reason to believe,
        however, that a coherent, consistently altruistic and non-retributive system of thought
        existed in the mind and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, if only we could reconstruct
        that system from the fragments which we do have, combined with our own insights
        and experiences.
         5-12.  Retributive practices and behavioral repertoires might have had some
        survival value in the earlier stages of human evolution (and might still), but God surely
        saw the end state which he wants human beings to achieve, and it is surely an end
        state which even now is often at odds with our natural propensities.
             A truly Christian ethic must posit the necessity for God to have taken human form
        in order to exemplify in both words and deeds the full meaning of forgiveness and
        selflessness inhering in the golden rule.  Secular reductions, or religious derivations
        based in retributive theology, have not succeeded.
              It is only in the personhood of the Christ that the golden rule can be completely
        understood, and even then only in conjunction with the subsequent trials and lessons
        of life.  Only with all of these do the truly revolutionary implications of the Christian
        message come to fruition in the moral understanding of each individual: if we are
        mistreated, individually or collectively, we are never to treat others as they do in fact
        treat us, but as we would have them treat us.  Against the aggressor, we may not
        aggress.  Against the trespasser, we may not trespass.
              Both war and punishment, that is, are forbidden by the agápe concept which we
        call the "golden rule."
         5-13.  At first I considered referring to the golden rule as "a categorical imperative
        of altruism and non-retribution," but such a label smacks a bit more of Kantian ethics
        than I would like.  Kant certainly thought that the simple statement of the golden rule
        in Christian ethics could be stated in more refined fashion as the Categorical
        Imperative: "Act such that the rule by which you act should become a universal
        maxim." 1  That is, let your rule of conduct be one that would have universal
             A major problem with Kant's claim that such a principle would be a refinement of
        the golden rule was his claim to be able to derive a specific categorical imperative of
        retribution2 from the more general Categorical Imperative.  In addition, the im-
        plication is that one's altruism would be limited: one would, on Kant's view, have no
        true obligation to others beyond the limits of the keeping of contracts and
        agreements--or reciprocated behavior in general.  Anything beyond that which is
        mutually obligatory, contractual, or reciprocal might be good and worthy, but it
        would not, on Kant's view, be morally obligatory: it would be "supererogatory"
        conduct, action beyond the limits of duty and obligation.
             Yet, even the possibility of some supposed "supererogation" would be compro
        mised by the requirements of the specific categorical imperative of retribution: those
        who treated one benevolently should, on such a view, be rewarded and those who did
        not should be punished.  This retributive emphasis, not that of supererogation, became
        the foundation of Kantian legalism, and this retributive emphasis is not the golden rule
        at all.  What Kant gave us is not a refinement of the golden rule at all, but of its very
        antithesis, the lex talionis: "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." (Exodus
         5-14.  Two caveats are in order if one insists upon using the language of Kant in
        referring to the golden rule: first, the idea of a general categorical imperative is
        substantively empty and can indeed be legitimately used to derive two possibly
        contradictory principles (in this case "retribution" and "non-retribution"); second, it
        is nonetheless appropriate (with qualifications) to refer to a principle of non-
        retribution as being a categorical imperative, as long as one means by that term merely
        a principle which one should like to see universalized.  
             The problem with Kant's Categorical Imperative, however, is that it is nothing
        more than the principle of universalizability, a component of every meaningful ethical
        system, even utilitarianism (through the principle of utility itself).  The Categorical
        Imperative by itself says very little and thus begs all of the substantive ethical
        questions: what is it, that is, that one should want to have universalized?  
          5-15.  The substantive void of the Categorical Imperative leads naturally enough
        to a kind of empty proceduralism, a proceduralism which defaults to an emphasis on
        due process and the rule of law--and a concomitant retributivism.
             Thus, even though the idea of a general Categorical Imperative allows for the
        possibility of universalizing either retribution or forgiveness, the substantive emptiness
        of the Categorical Imperative tends to create a void which our inherent retributive
        tendencies are all too eager to fill.
             Perhaps one may speculate that human nature in its present stage of development
        could not have seen the non-retributive option in all of its fullness.  (Those cultures
        which have offered something like the golden rule seem never to have understood its
        full implications.)  Perhaps it took divine intervention to show that God would
        universalize empathy and mercy, not judgment, vengeance, or a simple response in
         5-16.  The ultimate legacy of Kant's restatement of the golden rule in the sterile,
        formal language of the Categorical Imperative is not only a justification of punishment
        and retaliation (within the limits of law), but also a strict delimiting of the obligation
        to others.  This follows from the emphasis on reciprocity or mutual obligation, an
        emphasis whose implications are brought out most clearly by John Rawls' A Theory
        of Justice,3 a work in the Kantian contractualist tradition.
             Jesus of Nazareth, by contrast, used the golden rule to universalize non-retributive
        conduct and unconditionally benevolent action (ag pe love, altruism) as being
        obligatory to others without limits of any kind save that of ability: "Of those to whom
        much is given, much will be required."  In other words, one is obliged to do as much
        good as one can do, and always to forgive and thereby forego all opportunities to
        reciprocate evil for evil.  In addition, the Christian golden rule would entail such
        corollaries as "Turn the other cheek," "Lend [or give] without expecting a return,"
        and "Love your enemies and do good to those who despitefully use you."  These
        would provide the essence of a doctrine that is perfectly non-retributive and perfectly
        altruistic.  (See Matthew, chapters 5-7 for the entire Sermon on the Mount.  But see
        especially Luke 6:27-6:37.  Here the golden rule is embedded in Luke 6:31, in the
        middle of teachings which are very similar to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.
        In both versions, however, the specific altruistic and non-retributive teachings stand
        out as corollaries of the golden rule.)
              In any case, I shall label the original Christian interpretation of the golden rule as
        a principle of universalized altruism and non-retribution, a far more demanding
        conception of the golden rule than that to be found in the legalistic, retributivistic, and
        quasi-egoistic philosophy of Kant.
              But again, more simply stated, the essence of the golden rule might simply revolve
        around the requirement of perfect selflessness, manifest as a tendency to overlook the
        faults and shortcomings of others.
         5-17.  Kant's Categorical Imperative was seen by him to imply a categorical
        imperative of retribution precisely because Kant wanted to justify coercive laws and
        the coercive state: Kant was ultimately a philosopher of good Prussian law and order.
        Coercive law in the form of a world state was to be his means of achieving his
        conception of "world peace."  Such a conception would require the continuation of
        military and police institutions as the means of instituting and preserving peace.  What
        is striking about the Kantian ideal of peace is how far short it falls of the Christian
        ideal: a proper rendering of the New Testament golden rule would bring peace not
        through the perfection and perpetuation of the violent and coercive state, but in spite
        of the state.  
         5-18.  Not only is it necessary to depart from Kant in offering a categorical
        imperative of non-retribution, but it is necessary to affirm from the outset that the
        conception of the golden rule which one wants to defend is laden with substance, in
        this case a principle and spirit of altruism and non-retribution.  It is admittedly neces-
        sary to offer addenda such as that contained within the phrase "a categorical
        imperative of non-retribution."  (The golden rule is, after all, an absolute requirement
        in Christian ethics.)  But this in only one possible addendum.  A full fleshing out of
        the golden rule is the whole point of Christian ethics as a system, a system in which
        the corollaries of the golden rule together make up the Sermon on the Mount and the
        very similar teachings in Luke.
             The conception of the golden rule to be defended here is not only quite different
        from that of Kant's, but it is different from that of modern linguistic philosophers.
        Their debates over the golden rule are really over something like a simple principle of
        empathic identification, a principle unlike Kant's categorical imperative except insofar
        as both conceptions are devoid of substantive ethical content.  The Christian golden
        rule does require the principle of empathic identification, but only in the same way
        that every ethical system also requires the principle of universalizability.  If one fails
        to go beyond universalizability and empathic identification, one fails to offer a
        substantive interpretation of ethical conduct.
             Apart from affirming the worth of the individual, however, the golden rule does
        not specify the ends of ethical conduct, but only the means.  The ultimate ends of
        ethical conduct--broadly interpreted as the ultimate will of God--are vitally important,
        but ultimate ends are to be known independently of ethical means, and these ends are
        intuited directly by those of clear moral vision and a good conscience.  While Chris-
        tian ethics has a great deal to say about these, it is not to be found in the golden rule
        or its corollaries.
             The golden rule, then, is about means rather than about ends, even though it
        should have applicability to the promotion of all worthy ends.  Yet, to the extent that
        we may understand the force of the golden rule even if we are not sure as to which
        ends are ordained of God, the deontological requirement of the golden rule has
        epistemological independence from the teleological problem of ascertaining the ends
        which are ordained of God.
         5-19.  The label the "golden rule," without further elaboration, is a label which
        admits of a variety of interpretations.  Most of these overlap and none are obviously
        or necessarily mutually exclusive:
         (1) the golden rule as a principle recommending empathic identification: "Put
        yourself in the other person's shoes and then act accordingly";
         (2) the golden rule as the popular version of Kant's Categorical Imperative: "Act
        such that the rule by which you act should become a universal maxim" (that is, "Act
        as you would have all persons act"--the criterion of universalizability);
         (3) the golden rule as equivalent to Jeremy Bentham's principle of utility: "Promote
        the greatest happiness of the greatest number" (or at least, "Promote as much
        happiness as you can");
         (4) the golden rule as a principle of non-retribution: "Do unto others not as they
        do unto you, but as you would have them do unto you";
         (5) the golden rule as a principle recommending constructive rationality ("problem-
        solving") in place of destructive irrationality (blame-seeking and scapegoating).
         All of the above conceptions of the golden rule do indeed to some extent embody
        some element of what we think of when we think of the golden rule.  Yet, the
        advocates of some of these find themselves in opposition with one another.
              Let us look at these in turn:
         5-20.  The interpretation of the golden rule as a principle of empathic identifica-
        tion, requiring us to put ourselves in the shoes of another, is the common sense
        interpretation, and it has a lot to recommend it.  It is not a complete interpretation,
        however, and stated so simply it is not without its problems.  Of the idea that one
        should try to act with empathic identification, one may say that there can be no doubt
        but that a necessary requirement of morality is to try to see the world through the eyes
        of other persons, to try to see what they want and expect out of life, to imagine what
        things might hurt them, and otherwise to try to identify with other persons so that we
        do not inadvertently act in ways that do hurt them.  
             This would perhaps be an absolute requirement of morality, but it is only a minimal
        requirement.  It does not tell us, for example, what we should do for others when we
        have imagined ourselves in their position: it does not tell us whether we should, upon
        imagining ourselves in the shoes of another, do that which they would want us to do
        or that which we believe ought to be done.  Much less does it give any kind of
        objective criterion of right or good which ought to be promoted.  The requirement of
        empathic identification, without any standard of good guiding its implementation, thus
        perhaps falls prey to a kind of relativism which would have us endorse and support
        all kinds of self-destructive behavior.  This seems to be the interpretation of the
        golden rule which has been either defended or critiqued by such theorists as R.M.
        Hare4 and Alan Gewirth.5
         5-21.  Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham both thought that their own principles
        were improvements upon the golden rule, but they found themselves at odds with
        each other on a number of points.  Bentham thought that the golden rule implied a
        concern for future consequences rather than an obsession with the past.  Upon that
        basis he applied the golden rule qua the principle of utility6 in order to call for the
        moderation of the severe penal practices in the Great Britain of the late eighteenth
        century.  In particular, he advocated a penal system based upon deterrence rather than
        retribution, so that the punishment inflicted would, it was claimed, help prevent future
        crimes rather than presume to requite past ones.  (He assumed, that is, a meaningful
        distinction between deterrence and retribution, a distinction which breaks down in
        practice: retaliation is the practical manifestation of both.)
             Kant, by contrast, thought that the principles which should guide us should be
        based upon pure reason, not upon the empirically-based calculations of expected
        consequences, as on the Benthamic model.  He also thought, however, that the prin-
        ciple of logical consistency which could give us universal maxims would also imply
        a categorical imperative of retribution--the idea that the criminal should be punished
        for no other reason than that he had acted criminally, and that the fallacy of
        utilitarianism was that it might absolve the criminal of some of his deserved
             In general, the Kantian-utilitarian debate has centered around the whole issue as
        to whether or not the calculation of consequences can possibly give a substantial
        foundation for moral action.  Many have disparaged utilitarian-consequentialist
        rationales as implying situational ethics, ethics which are relative to time and place and
        which give no unmoving rock upon which to support consistently moral action.
        Others have disparaged consequentialist rationales as possibly justifying the
        punishment of the innocent, if such punishment could somehow serve to deter others
        from committing crimes.  Still others have pointed to the virtual impossibility of
        predicting with any accuracy even the first-order consequences of actions, much less
        the long-term consequences.  Others have called utilitarianism a "raw" ethic which
        justifies compromise and trade-off and which is thus indifferent to the welfare or
        dignity of individuals.  Still others have critiqued utilitarianism's hedonistic founda
        tions in the Benthamic version.  Within utilitarian thought itself, there has also been
        the important conflict between "act" and "rule" utilitarians.7
              In any case, the consequentialist emphasis of utilitarianism has drawn much fire
        from a number of quarters, even though its legacy remains strong in a variety of
        concepts in varying academic disciplines: balance of power theory in international
        relations, deterrence theory in both criminal justice and international relations,
        marginal utility and price theory in economics, and cost-benefit analyses in public
        administration.  The obvious difficulties with utilitarianism notwithstanding, its
        emphasis upon consequences can hardly be casually dismissed.  As John Rawls, a
        well-known critic of utilitarianism, has correctly said, not to be concerned with
        consequences is simply irrational, crazy.8  Rawls yet rejects utility and its
        consequentialist foundation as the basis for a coherent ethical theory.
             Perhaps some of the more powerful criticisms of utilitarianism can be summed up
        as follows: whatever may be the requirements of dealing with consequences and of
        making decisions that involve compromise, it is surely fallacious to begin with a
        principle of compromise, rather than to start with firm substantive principles which
        might admit of the necessity of compromise in hard cases.  
             As for Kant, there is great irony that his "improvement" of the golden rule by
        restating it as the Categorical Imperative also impelled him to derive from it lesser but
        more specific categorical imperatives, one of which was a categorical imperative of
        retribution.  The irony of this is that the common biblical interpretation of the golden
        rule contained in Matthew 7:12 is clearly a non-retributive principle, whatever else it
        might be.
         5-22.  The conception of the golden rule as a principle of non-retribution is useful
        for systematizing Christian ethics.  On this view, the pillar of Christian ethics (and of
        all valid ethical systems) is the golden rule as a general principle which can be used
        to derive other principles, principles which might be interpreted as corollaries.  
         For example, the golden rule implies as one corollary not "an eye for an eye," but
        the principle of "turning the other cheek."  In other contexts, it suggests the necessity
        of not judging others who might nonetheless judge us.  In yet another, it suggests the
        necessity of lending or giving without any expectation of a return (a principle of non-
        retribution in the distributive realm).  In general, the non-retributive conception of the
        golden rule suggests an alternative to allocating either good or evil as "just desert"
        (that which is thought to be deserved, whether it be reward or punishment).  On this
        view, we should always treat others with good, whether they treat us well or badly.
        Since retribution has both a positive side (reward) and a negative side (punishment),
        the golden rule as a principle of non-retribution abjures retributive practices in the
        realms of the distribution or allocation of both rewards and punishments.  If we are
        not to give to others with the expectation of reward, nor to retaliate against others
        who treat us badly, the logical implications of such a view could include everything
        from a critique of the market system (where all transactions are carried out with the
        expectation of return--an expectation implicit in any reciprocal arrangement or
        contract) to a complete renunciation of the penal system (where offenders are requited
        evil for evil, whether in the name of retribution or deterrence).  
              The golden rule could also, so interpreted, serve as the foundation of a categorical
        renunciation of the institution of war, on every scale.  The basic premises of this way
        of looking at the golden rule would seem to be (1) a belief in unconditional altruism
        (the ag pe principle) and (2) a belief that perfect means must always be employed to
        achieve both individual and societal ends.
         5-23.  The conception of the golden rule as a principle of constructive rationality
        has more of a psychological rather than a purely ethical emphasis, but it also has the
        advantage of incorporating many of the ethical insights of the above conceptions.  On
        this view, the golden rule is a principle of constructive action giving guidance in the
        face of all of the frustrating situations which might confront one in everyday life.  In
        the face of violence (or threat of any kind), for example, one looks for a benign and
        constructive alternative, not to a course of action which  leads to an escalating cycle
        of injury and retaliation.  In the face of social alienation, one neither harbors resentful
        thoughts nor expresses one's frustrations through hostile actions.  
              Instead of the irrational impulse toward blame and retaliation, one seeks
        constructive rational outlets for one's energies, always striving to meet hostile or
        callous persons, as well as baffling and frustrating situations, with reasoned responses.
        This conception might suggest the possibility of dispensing with the ethical legalism
        implicit in most of the religious conceptions of the golden rule, replacing it instead
        with a view which looks entirely  to human reason in lieu of divine commands.
              The problem-solving emphasis of this view suggests also an alternative to the guilt
        which is a by-product of legalism, suggesting the possibility of a sense of freedom
        from moral paralysis as well as an openness to meeting and responding to difficulties,
        challenges, and crises, secure in the faith that a reasoned and benign response can
        generally effect good consequences, or at least effect better ones than might occur
        without one's active intervention.  
              A religio-metaphysical interpretation of this view suggests the possibility of a God
        who does indeed ordain certain patterns as being inherently good (not as commands
        but as gifts, aspects of divine grace manifest through the divine will or purpose in
        creation), a God who does not punish but stands always ready to allow us to end our
        own self-punishment by admitting ("repenting of" in the original sense of "rethinking"
        or "rereasoning") our errors and rationalizations, thereby regaining the moral high
        ground as participants with God in the perfection of his creation, through the
        promotion and maximization of that which has been ordained by God as good.
         5-24.  The traditional statement of the golden rule as a simple recommendation of
        empathic identification is open to various interpretations, but behind these competing
        interpretations lie polar or dilemmatic choices.  
         Does one mean by the golden rule that one ought to
            (1) treat others as one would like to be treated;
        or (2) treat others as one ought to be treated?
             Or ought one to
            (1) treat others as they would like to be treated;
        or (2) treat others as they ought to be treated.
             Whereas (1) in the first dilemma is not reducible to (1) in the second dilemma, it
        would seem that both versions of (2) are effectively identical in both dilemmas.  So
        saying presumes, of course, that there are some universal goods--those ends which
        are good both for oneself and for others, good which have traditionally been described
        in the language of "natural law."  These are ends or goods which are universal goods
        because they are not relative to culture, because their point of reference is either
        human nature or the divine will, but not mere social convention or opinion.
              The second choice in both dilemmas is not without difficulties.  Yet, whereas in the
        first dilemma there is the risk of imperialism because of the presumption that one's
        preferences ought to supersede the judgments of others as to what kinds of treatment
        they should receive, in the second dilemma there is the risk of imperialism because of
        the presumption that one's judgments of right ought to supersede the judgments of
        others as to what kind of treatment they should receive.  There is an additional
        problem in the first choice in the first dilemma, since here there is also a possible
        problem of imperialism or paternalism: why should I presume that how I would like
        to be treated could possibly give me any guidance as to how others ought or would
        like to be treated?
             The answer to all of these problems is the same: the requirement of autonomy is
        not vitiated because one presumes that there are higher moral standards than
        preference or personal judgment.  Unless one is a relativist, one must presume that
        there is some identity of good for all persons in at least some areas of human activity,
        at least if the concept of "human nature" is thought to have any validity at all.  Indeed,
        the assumption that there is such a thing as human nature is in itself tied to a
        renunciation of ethical relativism.  This is not to say that the problem of imperialism
        is not very real when one tries to make judgments as to what extent one may rely
        upon one's own moral intuitions of good when acting for the sake of others.  Yet, if
        one may not use one's own moral intuitions of good, then whose?
              To defend the golden rule as a principle of empathic identification is not, however,
        to concede the inevitability of ethical or cultural imperialism.  It is simply to say that
        application of the golden rule only requires us to ask what is inherently good before
        we make any decision affecting the lives of others.  It does not give us an easy
        formula as to what to do when our judgments and those of others do in fact conflict.
              The principle of empathic identification is hardly the whole of the golden rule.  Yet,
        one finds it difficult to imagine any conception of the golden rule which could succeed
        if not coupled with the capacity and propensity for empathic identification.
         5-25.  I do not mean to denigrate the significance of the question of autonomy and
        tolerance versus paternalism and imperialism.  There is surely some sense in which
        Kant, in his requirement of universalizability, has recognized that a respect for the
        personhood and autonomy of others is an important component of the golden rule.
        So saying does not impel one, however, to accept a doctrinaire Kantian reduction of
        the golden rule, nor does it require one to accept Kant's process of deriving one form
        of the Categorical Imperative from other forms.  (I refer specifically to that form or
        version which says that one should always treat others as ends rather than simply as
        means.  The Kantian requirement of rational autonomy which comes into play in such
        a formulation is beyond dispute, but the identity of the various forms or versions is
        certainly debatable.)  
               Acceptance of the universalizability criterion of the Categorical Imperative also
        does not require that one accept the Kantian dictum that "Nothing is good in itself but
        good will."9  That is far too strong a claim, one that surely is false and which opens
        the door to moral relativism, as well as the disparagement of human nature and the
        will of God.  The full force of the golden rule can only be felt, in fact, if there is a
        recognition of the essential similarity of human nature and thus of human needs.
        Recognizing that fact about human nature does not impel one to become a value im-
        perialist.  It only impels one to try to ascertain what is really good or worthy before
        one embarks upon some program of action to improve society or the welfare or
        freedom of others.
             Any claim of social progress or benevolent action must surely presuppose some
        conception of good ends.  A meaningful, non-formalistic restatement of the golden
        rule must be predicated upon some judgment of the relative worthiness of competing
        claims to good.  The golden rule cannot within itself give us a theory of ends or
        goods.  Yet, contrary to the Kantian formulation, neither does belief in the moral force
        of the golden rule preclude the search for a coherent theory of good, a theory which
        presumes that there might be any number of things in addition to good will which are
        goods in themselves.
         5-26.  Does Christian ethics fall within the teleological or the deontological ethical
        traditions?  This is not an easy question to answer.  My own belief is that both good
        and right have epistemological independence in the parallel realms of ends and means.
             With regard to ends, we may say that certain ends are ordained of God.  These are
        inherently good, since they come from the will of God.  Certainly we have some
        obligation to maximize the realization of such ends without presuming that we have
        to use a utilitarian decision procedure in order to tell us how to do so.  Any theory of
        ends is a teleological conception, by definition, and all rational persons must have
        some regard for the consequences of their actions and inactions in promoting certain
             Yet, when contemplating the means whereby we may promote and maximize
        certain ends or goods, we are constrained by the ag pe concept, which governs
        questions of right.  Any theory of means is a theory of right principles or duty, and
        thus a deontological conception, by definition.  Yet, if such principles are guided by
        certain theological suppositions (such as the workings of divine Providence, for
        example), then we are not going to be able to reduce all ethical judgments to empirical
        assessments of consequences.
              In general, we may say that Christian ethics contains both teleological and
        deontological epistemological foundations.  It is certainly correct to say that we have
        an obligation to promote the will of God and thereby to promote and maximize the
        goods or ends which he has ordained, but we are simultaneously limited in the means
        that we may employ to promote such ends.
               This way of looking at the problem may be as close as we shall ever get to
        "bridging" the "teleological-deontological dilemma" of ethical epistemology.  That is,
        we have an obligation to promote the best ends, using the best possible means.  To
        say this, however, is less to offer a "bridge" than to say that there are at least two
        broadly differing epistemological problems with which all moral actors should be
               Finally, of course, both the best ends and the best means are ordained by the will
        of God.  Yet, ends and means are factorable, not to be mixed up together in some
        utilitarian calculus of "consequences" which blurs the distinction between ends and
        means.  Furthermore, if both ends and means are ordained of God, then they are both
        part of the divine telos, or purpose, which is synonymous with the will of God.  Yet,
        if it is our duty to promote both the ends ordained of God using the means which God
        has ordained, then our conception can also be called "deontological" as well as
              These considerations suggest the possibility that the deontological-teleological
        distinction may have outlived its usefulness, being a product of the stimulating but
        ultimately unsatisfying debate between Kantians and utilitarians.
              Even so, to the extent that ultimate goods or ends can probably be known only
        through intuition, whereas right means can be defended by reason after being intuited,
        there may be some value in seeing the realms of the teleological and deontological as
        having differing epistemological foundations.  This is extremely problematic
        theoretical territory, however, insofar as the problem of ethical epistemological has
        never been solved, and I make no pretense of having solved it here.
         5-27.  A non-relativistic, non-formalistic interpretation of the golden rule does
        have practical implications for moral action.  It would tend to preclude, for example,
        giving wine to an alcoholic simply because that is the way he wants to be treated.  It
        would preclude acquiescing in the sexual request of a strange woman simply because
        she enjoyed having sex with strangers.  The suggestion in both cases is that the person
        making a request or stating a need ought to be treated in a fashion compatible with
        his or her own best moral and physical interests, not in a fashion that gives a kind of
        perverse pleasure, nor in a fashion that degrades that person's status as a human being,
        or takes advantage of weakness or emotional vulnerability.
              Is it presumptuous or imperialistic to act upon the basis of one's own standards
        when complying with a request or attempting to meet the need of another?  No.  It
        is simply responsible.  The requirements of toleration do not extend so far as to imply
        an obligation to sacrifice one's own moral judgments to those of another.
         5-28.  Formalistic versions of the golden rule (e.g., Kant's Categorical Imperative)
        are suspect precisely because they do tend to relativize moral choice and because they
        could indeed, in the name of respect for the autonomy of others, justify engaging in
        or at least giving moral approbation to such a dubious practice as acceding to others'
        requests to give them that which one knows or conscientiously believes to be harmful.
             What else could possibly follow from the relativistic claim that absolutely nothing
        is good in itself besides good will?
         5-29.  A hidden component of the ag pe concept is a premise which cannot be
        restated as a "rule" or "law": the premise of the absolute worth of the individual.  It
        may well be that this premise is logically prior to the substantive principles of altruism
        and non-retributivism inherent in the golden rule.  Perhaps it can also help one to see
        why it is that there should be no conditions to one's benevolence: the absolute value
        of the individual requires such a conclusion.
             That is, once one has accepted the full implications of the  absolute worth of the
        individual, then it is absurd to say that one's benevolence toward that person should
        be conditional upon a further moral evaluation of the worth of that person, whether
        for the sake of punishment or reward: the worth of the individual is absolute,
        regardless of the present state of moral virtue or depravity of that individual, and
        certainly regardless of any human assessment of that virtue or depravity.
              Here one sees how an injunction against judging others can also be seen to be a
        "corollary" of the golden rule--or perhaps it is strictly more correct to say that
        altruism, non-retributivism, and non-judgment are all ethical corollaries of the
        metaphysical premise of the absolute worth of the individual in the eyes of God.
              The irony of all this is that the premise of the absolute worth of the individual is a
        statement of good, not right per se.  Is it possible that behind all theories of right lies
        some kind of knowledge of good?  If this be so, then the theory espoused here is more
        nearly teleological than I imagined it to be.
         5-30.  To say that God affirms the absolute worth of the individual is to say
        something that has about it the air of a metaphysical rather than a simple ethical claim,
        for it implies that individual human beings really do have infinite worth which is willed
        by God himself.  This metaphysical claim, to have force, must be derived from yet
        another metaphysical claim about the omnibenevolence of God, which in this context
        means seeing God as always a redemptive and never as a punitive force, a conclusion
        which seems for many persons to fly not only in the face of scripture but of common
              Yet, just such an assumption would seem to be required: only an omnibenevolent
        God could will that beings created "in his own image" should also be omnibenevolent,
        should also always act in non-punitive ways reflecting a concern for the worth of
        other individuals.
         5-31.  It is clear that any theistic system of ethics and justice must be founded upon
        a conception of humankind which derives from the claim that human beings are
        created in the image of God, and it is equally clear that such a system would depend
        upon rather strong claims about human nature, not the weak claims which a
        contractualist such as Rawls would advocate.  Everything which Rawls would want
        to put behind the veil of ignorance would have to be brought out as strong metaphysi-
        cal premises.  
              Contra Rawls, one may say that no meaningful theory of justice is imaginable
        without a theory of human nature, and no meaningful theory of human nature could
        be meaningful without a theory of the nature of the divine.
         5-32.  A sustained defense of a principle of non-retribution would raise all of the
        essential questions of a full Christian theology, for, if there is a truism in Christian
        ethics, it is that Christian ethics cannot survive if cut off from a Christian theology.
        An ethic is a philosophical superstructure, not a foundation.  A true foundation of
        the metaphysics of morals would have to be a metaphysic of ultimate being, a
        theology.  Studies in ethics thus ultimately redirect us to a concern for the identity and
        nature of God.
         5-33.  What is a principle of non-retribution but a principle of forgiveness?  To
        categorically renounce war, punishment, and other expressions of retribution is merely
        to universalize the requirement of forgiveness.  Perhaps this idea--universal forgive-
        ness--is what the golden rule is all about.  Perhaps this is why Jesus called the golden
        rule "the law and the prophets":10 it captures the essence of the divine, that for which
        wise men and prophets have always searched.
         5-34.  If one begins historically, the non-retributive aspect of the golden rule can
        be seen to have been offered in ancient times as the statement by Socrates in the Crito
        that it is never right to hurt anyone, no matter how much he has hurt us.11  This idea
        seems to be contained within (or implied by) the golden rule as it is found in the
        familiar Christian form, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
        Perhaps Hillel's negative formulation is logically equivalent: "Do not do unto others
        that which you would not have them do unto you."  Similarly, in Taoism, the golden
        rule or something like it is offered as the idea that one must always do good unto
        other persons, no matter how they might treat us.
              All of the above conceptions seem to reflect at least one common assumption:
        one's virtue should be independent of the virtue of others.  Unfortunately, this
        superficial agreement on the form of the golden rule is not borne out in a more
        profound agreement as to the essence of virtue.
         5-35.  Whereas in Christianity the golden rule has typically been associated with
        the imperative to forgive others, in the Judaic tradition of the law of Moses the idea
        of requiting evil for evil has been central.  In a similar vein, whereas Socrates used
        something like the golden rule in the Crito to try to justify a highly legalistic
        conception of virtue11 (getting permission from the state to disobey its laws, for
        example), the same cannot be said of Taoism.  
              In more modern times, the differences between Kant and Bentham again reveal a
        superficial consensus.  The debates among contemporary theorists such as Gewirth,
        Hare, and Weiss also indicate that no real consensus exists.  All of these disagree
        ments indicate that the golden rule can only have meaning within the larger ethical
        context of an entire system of thought.  Perhaps one may thus say without
        ethnocentrism that the larger ethical and theological context of the Christian version
        of the golden rule does indeed make it a unique ethical conception.  It is false, that is,
        to see this great principle in the fullness of its implications as having surfaced in all
              Jesus of Nazareth did have something unique to say.  To say this does not prove
        that he was right, or that he was the Son of God in some unique sense.  It does
        suggest that he offered insights which differ from those which have surfaced in other
              If this assertion sounds ethnocentric, consider the fact that I am critiquing the
        larger part of the Christian tradition, a tradition which is dominant within my own
        culture.  I am thereby challenging the moral foundations of that entire culture rather
        than claiming its superiority.
         5-36.  The theorist who does not attribute substantive non-retributive content to
        the golden rule is, in one respect, like the ethicist who does not predicate his system
        on the theistic premises of a non-retributive God: he becomes a retributivist by
              The utilitarians represent the most notorious case, of course.  The utilitarian "non-
        retributive deterrent theory of punishment" is sheer nonsense.  All retaliation,
        regardless of motive or expected consequences, is retributive in form and tends to be
        retributive in consequences.  The point of the principle of utility was admittedly to
        abjure retribution while still promoting punishment in the name of legal and penal
        reform.  As long as the practice of punishment was being defended, however, the
        evaluative and retributive consequences were often the same.
              Thus, by utilitarianism's own consequentialist criterion, whether one's motive is
        deterrence or retribution is quite irrelevant if the consequences of one's actions are the
        same: retaliation and all of the suffering that that invariably entails.  Utilitarianism thus
        refutes its own claim of having offered a meaningful alternative to retributive theories
        of punishment.
         5-37.  The motives of the utilitarian punisher are irrelevant.  It is as if one were to
        say, "We are going to execute you now, but please do not take it personally.  This is
        not intended as a reflection on your character, but is merely for the sake of deterring
               Such is one side to the utilitarian nonsense: perhaps it is the most dangerously
        retributive philosophy ever expounded, precisely because it is not aware of its veiled
        retributivism.  Honest vengeance would perhaps be more wholesome--and quite pos-
        sibly less destructive.
         5-38.  In spite of utilitarianism's "veiled retributivism" under the name of a
        deterrence theory of punishment, there is something about the boldness with which
        "act utilitarianism" has tried to unify all axioms under one overarching principle of
        right which has a certain appeal.  In addition to this quest for coherence through value
        monism, utilitarian thought constantly redirects attention to the future consequences
        of action, rather than being obsessed with past injustices, as on the classical retributive
              Yet, utilitarianism cannot quite bring off its grand claims.  It wants to redirect
        attention to ends or purposes at the same time that its denial of natural and divine law
        deprives it of any standard of good besides that of the hedonist.  The result is an
        ethical theory that has no God, no purpose, and no law except the law of hedonism:
        utility qua pleasure becomes the ultimate concern, the ultimate end, and the
        summation of moral law for the utilitarian, even as moral law itself is being dispar-
                Utilitarianism in practice seems to be reducible to a curious mixture of a Hobbesian
        metaphysic of natural conflict combined with the consequentialist non-ethic of
         5-39.  As has been noted, if one means by the "golden rule" a very strong principle
        of unconditional altruism and non-retribution, then that principle can be seen to entail
        a number of specific corollaries, among them "return good for evil," "turn the other
        cheek," and "give without expecting a return."
             Are such corollaries applicable to the realm of what is called "public morality"?
        Martin Luther thought not, and his legacy in this regard vitiated much of the moral
        force of the Protestant Reformation.  The result was a relegation of the non-
        retributive teachings of the golden rule to the realm of "private morality."  For the
        realm of "public morality," the norm of what was called "justice" remained the old
        retributive conception: evil was to be requited with evil.  On such a bifurcated view,
        private individuals could conceivably live according to the stringently selfless
        requirements of the golden rule, but the same could not be said for states or other
        collectivities, neither in their own self-defense in the arena of international conflict,
        nor in the adjudication of legal claims within their own boundaries.  
             The dualistic view of morality predates Luther, but, in his affirmation of a strong
        distinction between public and private morality, he perpetuated a dualism--an ethical
        double standard--which still afflicts the entire Protestant tradition.  Seen from yet
        another point of view, Luther perpetuated the central ethical doctrines of Augustine
        and Aquinas.  The organizational form of Christianity was changed through the
        Protestant Reformation.  Its errors based in part on Pauline revisionism and pagan
        Greek influences persisted.
         5-40.  The golden rule, along with its corollaries, is admittedly fraught with
        seemingly "practical" difficulties as a principle of "public morality."  A society of
        perfect altruists could not retaliate against another society, even in self-defense.  Nor
        could it retaliate against those criminal elements who are simultaneously members and
        enemies of the civil order.
              It is little wonder, therefore, that political philosophers have not taken the golden
        rule very seriously.  They have not, perhaps, really understood it.  Or perhaps they
        have understood it all too well and have simply rejected it out of hand.  Perhaps they
        have dismissed as totally unworthy of consideration the idea that the golden rule, as
        the embodiment of altruistic and non-retributive thinking, could possibly form the
        basis of an entire social order: a veritable constitution.
              This is the fatal flaw of most of that body of social theory which is called "political
        philosophy," that it dismisses as a fundamental premise that which could lead to its
        own redemption as a social enterprise.  As long as it rejects, in the name of
        "practicality" or "Realpolitik" or "public morality," any significant challenge to the
        modern state and its legalism, it will continue to stagnate, tending to be primarily a
        means of expressing and supporting not the forces of social progress, but of reaction.
         The worst of these is war.  The next worst is punishment, especially in its
        routinized, institutionalized form.
         5-41.  One must concede to the utilitarians that the quest for a principle of non-
        retribution was indeed a worthy quest, even if the principle of utility was not up to the
        challenge: it did not itself fully meet the criterion of non-retributivism, much less
        suffice to stand as the foundation for a monistic and largely empirical science of
        ethics.  It certainly did not achieve the goal of being an improvement upon the golden
             With all due respect to the utilitarian reformers for their efforts in ridding the
        British penal system of some of its most barbaric practices of punishment and torture,
        however, a deterrent theory of punishment (with an eye only to future consequences
        in lieu of a concern for doling out "just deserts") was never "non-retributive" in any
        meaningful sense.           
             John Rawls addressed this point indirectly in his early article, "Two Concepts of
        Rules,"  where he made the claim that "once one has decided to have laws, one has
        decided upon something which is retributive in form."12    
             That is, any system of legal practices is bound to employ a variety of devices for
       enforcing compliance with its directives, and those who do not comply will feel the
       force of retaliation and thus de facto retribution.  If Rawls is correct in his observation
       about the inherently retributive nature of coercive law, however, then what Joel
       Feinberg calls a "nineteenth century debate" between "retributive" and "deterrent"
       theories of punishment was indeed only a confusion.
             If only Feinberg could see the real basis of that confusion: a belief in the morality
       of retribution itself.13
         5-42.  The practical objections to the golden rule which most often arise are those
        which revolve around questions of retaliation and retribution: a failure to retaliate
        (whether by the individual or by the state) in the face of external threat might lead to
        the most enduring material sacrifices, including the loss of one's life, that of one's
        loved one(s), or the destruction of a culture.
             Is it possible that refusing to retaliate could be justified solely out of regard for the
        welfare and moral growth of the aggressor?  I think so: perhaps only by making
        seemingly incomprehensible sacrifices can one demonstrate with the greatest sincerity
        the depth of one's concern for another--one who perhaps cannot be reached any other
             A perfect altruism might require such drastic sacrifices, and it might well be that
        only a perfect being could be capable of such sacrifices or know when they are
        justified.  I do not think so, however, since I think that the requirement to imitate the
        Christ does indeed extend so far: if Christ died for the most depraved sinners, and if
        he asked his disciples (who were also "loved ones") to do likewise, can we stand
        prepared to do otherwise?
              My guess is that sending his disciples away to virtually certain death was more
        difficult for Jesus than submitting himself to be sacrificed.  As he said on more than
        one occasion, however, his followers tend to think as man thinks, not as God thinks--
        and God would leave the ninety and nine sheep to go in search of the one who was
             If the worst criminals and sinners are not lost, then who is?  Perhaps we must risk
        the welfare of all of society for those who are most desperately in need of our help
        and our compassion--not our further abuse.
         5-43.  In order to be plausible as a requirement of altruism, an injunction against
        retaliation or retribution might have to be based upon demonstrable evidence that
        one's sacrifice would indeed achieve some great moral end.  What might that end be?
        Perhaps the answer is that the ultimate and highest end of non-retaliation is the
        redemption of the aggressor, regardless of the material or physical cost to oneself or
        to those whom one holds dear.  If so, then the ultimate objective would have to be the
        conversion of the aggressor by the force of one's example.  Could one expect such
        radical conversion in a given instance?  Perhaps the answer is "no," although it is
        certainly true that individuals do change, and it is difficult to see how one could
        possibly know in a given instance whether one's act of non-retaliation would lead to
        such a change or not.
              Acts of selfless, forgiving sacrifice can have an impact far beyond the realm of
        what might be expected.  The lives of Jesus and Socrates demonstrate that fact.  It is
        possible to commit such an exemplary act of sacrifice that any number of lives might
        be changed.  
              Yet, even if only one life might possibly be changed spiritually, perhaps one's
        physical sacrifice would be required by the divine logic.
         5-44.  Utilitarian considerations aside, if the moral development of the aggressor--
        or of those who witnessed and were influenced by the non-retributive example--were
        one's primary concern, then one's reason for offering oneself as an exemplary sacrifice
        would be one's respect for the moral autonomy (or potentiality for such autonomy)
        of the aggressor: one would obey a categorical imperative of non-retribution for the
        sake of the aggressor as an end in himself.
              Implicit in this Kantian-sounding argument is a very non-Kantian conclusion: one
        opts for an alternative to punishment.  The crucial assumption leading to this
        conclusion is that sacrificing oneself is a more effective disciplinary (teaching) tool
        than punishment: altruistic action speaks louder as a moral teacher than does egoistic
        retaliation in the name of self-defense.
              Since the practical consequences might be both the moral development of the
        aggressor and whatever practical benefits might befall society as a result of such
        development and sensitivity, it would appear that both consequentialist and univer-
        salist arguments could be used in favor of non-retaliation, and that the use of both
        together would make a stronger case than either alone.  
         5-45.  Even if one were to accept the argument that one should be prepared to
        sacrifice oneself for the sake of some apparently "unworthy" person, the question
        naturally arises as to whether or not it is right or reasonable to call for others to make
        a comparable sacrifice.
             This challenge has the most force in those instances in which one's failure to act is
        concrete and personal--such as a decision not to use force to drive away someone
        attempting to kidnap one's own child.  Would anyone call for total inaction in such an
        instance in the name of "pacifism," the golden rule, or any other ideal?  I dare say that
        the answer is "no": total inaction would not be "pacifistic," but merely "passive."
             Barring total inaction, however, what types of action are consistent with the golden
        rule in such hard cases?  I believe that it is fair to say that even a pacifist could justify
        putting himself between the aggressor and the intended victim.  Yet, would doing so
        stop the aggressor, especially if the aggressor were armed and the pacifist did not
        avail himself of the use of force?  Is it possible that the pacifist could justify some kind
        of non-punitive restraint or violence, without violating the golden rule as defined?  
         I could opt out at this point by saying that perhaps it is safer to look at the golden
        rule as being a limiting non-retributive ideal rather than an absolute.  This might even
        be the best that one could do by way of deciding upon the efficacy of non-retribution
        in hard cases, but one feels the need to affirm one's principles as more than "limiting
              As for alternatives to violence or force in hard cases, the remarkable thing in most
        instances is how seldom persons search about for pacifistic solutions.  In a given
        instance, we probably have verbal resources and alternative solutions which we have
        scarcely tapped because we so seldom look for them.  It is at least conceivable that
        there is always a peaceful solution to the problem of aggression were we but wise
        enough to find it--but that would presuppose that we were patient and faithful enough
        to keep looking for it.
         5-46.  What does one do in the hardest of hard cases?  Does one merely say that
        one should use "violence only as a last resort," or that one should use "the least
        violence necessary" to achieve one's desired ends?  Are not such platitudes merely
        invitations to hold violence always in reserve, as a potential repertoire permanently
        at one's ultimate disposal?  If that is one's "policy," in what sense is it significantly
        different from the state's policy of deploying armies and police forces--usually in
        reserve, of course, but with a disposition to use violence if the situation seems to
        require it?
             Such is the problem with saying that pacifism is a "limiting ideal" rather than a
        categorical absolute: one winds up using one's energy preparing for the contingencies
        of retaliation and reciprocated violence, if non-violence fails.  
             Such is not the way of peace, but of preparedness for war.
         5-47.  Short of being disposed to use violence as a "last resort," what can we as
        peaceful persons do?
              If we are truly to "disarm" ourselves, I think that we must begin in the realm of
        ideas and plans or repertoires of proposed action.  We must, that is, be constantly
        looking for alternatives to violence rather than preparing contingency plans for the use
        of violence.  If we spend our time preparing such contingency plans, we shall surely
        use them sooner or later, whether there are other alternatives or not--in much the
        same way that armies are always used sooner or later, even if the rationale is usually
        to build and deploy them so that they will never be used.
         5-48.  In general, I believe that, if we are truly committed to peace, God will
        indeed find a way for us to follow his example, even in those circumstances where we
        do not see in advance an obviously practicable alternative to violence or threat.  This
        faith in God is of the utmost significance in trying to defend pacifism within an overtly
        Christian framework: one must have some faith that the injunction issued by the Christ
        to Peter to "Follow me!" was meant to be taken seriously and was not the mere use
        of rhetoric for dramatic effect.  
              A complete and abiding faith in the Prince of Peace ought to be finally manifested
        as some settled disposition to act and think in ways different from those who have not
        heard or heeded his message.
         5-49.  A viable ethic prepares us for the actual world, not the fantasy world of
        "hypothetical situations."  The real world, created and overseen by God, does not
        perhaps offer us the inflexible hard cases with which professional philosophers are so
        intrigued.  Similarities with real cases there may be, but the nature of such "hypotheti
        cal situations" is that they give us no moral "out."
             Such are the creations of humankind.  God can surely do--has done--better.  It is
        entirely possible, however, that the only divine way out of many bitter ethical
        dilemmas is through our own sacrifice.
         5-50.  In "Two Concepts of Rules," John Rawls argued that he could see the force
        of both deontological retributive arguments and teleological non-retributive
        ("consequentialist," "utilitarian") arguments.14  The result was a kind of rule utilitarian
        rationale which ostensibly tried to reconcile and account for the force of both deontic
        and consequentialist-teleological arguments.  Although Rawls went on to a more
        explicitly Kantian rationale in A Theory of Justice, his early attempts to resolve the
        dilemma within a broadly rule utilitarian framework still have much force.
              By the time Rawls wrote A Theory of Justice, he seems to have given up on
        integrating consequentialist arguments into a basically deontological framework.  A
        Theory of Justice thus represents not a grand synthesis of deontic and teleological
        theories, but the giving up on a battle which consumed him in his earlier writings.
        Rawls' early goal of aspiring to resolve the teleological-deontological dilemma still has
        much appeal, and one cannot but think that the dilemma still hamstrings modern
        ethical theory, preventing it from realizing its full potential of giving adequate
        expression to a variety of intuitive insights from both traditions.  One has the feeling
        that the dilemma can only be resolved (if it can be resolved at all) if it is treated in the
        context of strong substantive arguments which go to the heart of ethical theory.
              Unfortunately, Rawls' tendency to argue from weak premises has given us more
        proceduralism and more legalism: such is the Kantian legacy.
         5-51.  What are the final implications of the doctrine of the infinite worth of the
        individual? One implication is that the recalcitrant individual who resists the efforts
        of God and man is presumed to have only a theoretical possibility of remaining indefi-
         nitely excluded (by his or her own choice) from divine grace.  
              The infinite power and majesty of God can surely outwait any mere human's
        recalcitrance: it is virtually inconceivable that any person could resist God's will
        indefinitely, eternally.  Even those who deliberately act wrongly find the Providential
        hand of God intervening over and over again, and they cannot help but learn, even in
        the worst of lives.  God, who knows all and sees all, would not create the individual
        known in advance to be doomed for infinite or eternal damnation.  God does not
        create any person so that that person can be sacrificed merely as an example for the
        righteous: God who created every person as a lamb of infinite worth is not a utilitarian
        who would consign even one person to torment forever so that others might be saved.
        Caiaphas, the high priest who consigned Jesus to his death, gave a similar kind of
        argument as his excuse.
             God is a God, however, who was prepared to become a sacrificial lamb as the only
        way to demonstrate the depth of divine grace, for the sake of all others.  What he
        would not do with other individuals for the sake of the whole he would do with
        himself in human form, if by such a sacrifice he could make the divine Logos manifest,
        comprehensible to humans of finite intelligence.
             In so doing, he exemplified the highest expression of the golden rule: he was
        willing to sacrifice that which was infinitely worthy for the sake of those who were
        most unworthy in their present condition--but of infinite worth nonetheless.  He re-
        turned infinite good in the face of the most evil treatment imaginable.  He invites us
        to follow in his footsteps in our own trials, because he knows that we, created in his
        image, will also find spiritual gain more fulfilling than any physical or social
              Can any Kantian or utilitarian explain the mind of God?
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