Shining Ideal and Uncertain Reality: Commentaries on the “Golden Rule” in Confucianism and Other Traditions

In: Journal of Chinese Humanities

This paper considers a number of problematic issues underlying the seemingly unassailable truth of moral philosophy expressed in the “Golden Rule” in a variety of cultural spheres. These issues include the place of this teaching within its given religious or philosophical context, the defense of this principle as an inviolable tenet of revealed dogma or as a piece of utilitarian advice for the regulation of social life, the manner in which the precise rhetorical structure of a given formulation reflects the specific intellectual underpinnings of its cultural milieu, claims of universal validity as a statement of moral truth for all men and all time or as a culture-specific value understood to apply exclusively within a particular religious community, and modes of commentarial expansion by scriptural exegetes and textual scholiasts seeking to ground this teaching within the logic of philosophical or theological discourse. After outlining several points of uncertainty that emerge in the context of transferring the ideal of human empathy to the messy reality of concrete existence, we then turn to a number of attempts by leading commentators in the Confucian, rabbinic, and other scholastic traditions to grapple with these contradictions and to reconcile them within the framework of their respective value systems.

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