Handout Material for Week 9

Session 9 – Love Thy Neighbor
The Golden Rule
Not named ‘Golden Rule’ in the Bible but stated in at least 2 places in NT:
o “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this
sums up the Law and the Prophets”, Matthew 7:12 NIV
o “Do to others as you would have them do to you” Luke 6:31 NIV
Not a uniquely Christian idea
Objections to the Golden Rule:
o The one on the receiving end has no say
o The one on the giving end is presumed to be operating under well-accepted
ethical norms.
o There is a risk of oppression, at both individual and societal level
Tit-For-Tat & Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma
Definition of tit-for-tat: equivalent retribution
Prisoner’s dilemma:
Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction,
and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies
(defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent
(cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a
minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must
choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know
about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?
Tit-for-tat is nearly always the optimal strategy for Prisoner’s Dilemma
Tit-for-tat algorithm in Prisoner’s Dilemma computer simulations
o Unless provoked, the player will always cooperate
o If provoked, the player will retaliate
o The player is quick to forgive
Should Christianity always be ‘turn the other cheek’?
Right-based Ethics:
Immanuel Kant’s ‘Categorical Imperative’
Stated by Kant in 3 forms. The first 2 are:
1) Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it
should become a universal law.
2) Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the
person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means
to an end.
Similar to but different from the Golden Rule (at least according to Kant).
The ‘Jews in the Barn’
You are a believing Christian living in Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Some Jews on the run from the
Gestapo have come to you for help and you have hidden them in your barn. Later the Gestapo
agents knock on your door and ask you directly: ‘Are there any Jews on your property?’ How
should you answer them?
The dilemma is whether to lie or not. Some Christians take the position that one should
never lie (or apparently violate any categorical Biblical commandment). Note that lying
violated Kant’s 1st formulation of the Categorical Imperative as lying – as a maxim –
cannot be universalized. Other Christians and philosophers contend there is a hierarchy of
virtues and when ethical principles are in conflict you choose the ‘best’ option.
Adventists have disagreed on this point. Compare:
1) an article by Roy Adams in the December, 1997 Adventist Review entitled In
Defense of Rahab with,
2) a critique of Adams by Ron du Preez: entitled A Holocaust of Deception: Lying to
Save Life and Biblical Morality - Journal of the Adventist Theological Society,
Spring 1998, pp. 187-219.
Robert Kane’s ‘Moral Sphere’
Philosopher Robert Kane wrote a book entitled Through the Moral Maze where he
discusses this dilemma. He addresses ‘The Jews in the Barn’ and also poses another
dilemma that more clearly illustrates problems with Kant’s 2nd formulation of his
Categorical Imperative:
“There are situations in life (many of them, in fact) in which it is impossible to treat all persons as
ends … If you are walking down the street and witness a man attempting to rape a woman and
there is something you can do to stop it (by physically intervening or seeking help), then you have
entered a situation of this kind. If you do something to prevent the rape, you are not allowing the
rapist to live in accordance with his point of view; you are not treating him as an end. But if you
just “walk on by” and do nothing, you are not allowing the rape victim to live in accordance with
her point of view without interference; you are not treating her as an end,”
Kane attempts to solve the dilemma with a concept he calls the Moral Sphere:
Figure 14
1) Moral world: Kant’s Moral Imperative can be upheld
2) Ethical norms in conflict, but one party is guilty – choose the act that helps restore a
moral world
3) No guilty party but we face a lose-lose situation, like a crashing plane, 3 people, 2
Kane’s ‘End’s Principle:
“Treat every person as an end in every situation … whenever possible. When this is not possible
because the moral sphere has broken down, strive to sustain the ideal … This means, when there is
a guilty party (level 2), restrain the guilty and use minimal force to restore and preserve the moral
Some Questions:
Q: Should the Golden Rule be used to ground morality?
Q: Do you agree or disagree with the idea that it is sometimes morally acceptable to lie?
Q: Is it sometimes morally acceptable to protect your own interest or should one always
‘turn the other cheek’?
Q: in the video, Michael Shermer, an atheist, states: “I tip the waiter. Why? … Because it
makes me feel better.” Is altruism universal? What is it about selfless acts that might
make you ‘feel better’?