The Golden rule goes back long before Greek philosophy, we find it in ancient traditions and religions, albeit in different formulations.
Should one do good with someone who doesn't deserve it?
To answer this question, we should change it to something that is more conceivable.
Should one let a toddler play with scissors if he wants to play with scissors?
Of course, the literal application of the Golden Rule would say :
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
You can formulate it this way :
If you want x done unto you, then do x unto others.
It is obvious here that the toddler wants to play with scissors, and you (if you were the toddler), you would also like your parents to let you play with scissors.
So, here ... the literal application of the Golden Rule seems wrong. But there is something in us (i.e common sense), that makes us believe that the Golden Rule is reliable in most situations.
What's wrong here is our understanding of the statement you want x . Does it mean You want x given you are the other person, or you want x given you are you, were you in the same situation as the other person.
That is, the toddler says : I want my parent to let me play with scissors.
But if the toddler were you (an adult), he would want you to not let them play with scissors.
So, you think of the Golden Rule with your current mental faculties, and you do not put yourself in the shoes of the toddler to think of what they want.
Golden Rule: If I want my parents to let me play with scissors when I was a toddler (given my current mental faculties and reasoning), then I ought to let my child play with scissors
The same applies for cases where someone wants you to help them commit suicide. If you were that person (with your current reasoning), you would not want them to let you commit suicide.
And it is a fact that the more mature and wise we become, the more we wish friends and parents to have treated us differently : we wished if our teachers have treated us more strictly, our parents to have woken us up early, our friends to have prevented us from smoking or taking drugs...etc.
Now back to your question, this is how I can formulate the Golden Rule:
If I want others to do me good even when I do not deserve it, then I ought to do good to others when they do not deserve it
The antecedent here seems very subjective and relative, It all depends on the person and how mature they are.
Suppose Bob killed an innocent man and I am the judge. And I were to decide, according to our definition of the Golden Rule, whether we ought to do good to Bob and clear him of all charges (even though he does not deserve it).
When I think : if I want the judge to clear me of all charges in a similar situation , I have to think of it using my current moral, ethical, logical and factual reasoning, and not that of Bob.
So my question would be : If I were Bob, using my current reasoning and ethics, would I want to be cleared of all charges?
Given the judge is mature enough, it would be obvious for him that he would not want to be forgiven, rational and moral people always want to be punished : Regret is a virtue, and if you were to think whether you want to reason according to the Golden Rule, you have to be a man of virtue : That is, You have to be virtuous enough to want to be punished if you murdered an innocent man.
And since you are willing to use the Golden Rule (and you are virtuous), you ought to suppose that you are Bob, and that you are using your current morals, reasoning and general wisdom, and try Bob accordingly.
Of course you may think that is very subjective, what if I (the judge) have the same moral and rational level as Bob, what if I reason just like Bob?
In this case, there are two options :
- Either Bob is virtuous (i.e knows about and abides by the Golden Rule), then I would not want to be cleared of all charges (and Bob does not want to be cleared of all the charges, since he abides by the Golden Rule, which states that
if I were murdered by someone, I would not want my murderer to be cleared of all charges. Therefore, Bob does not want to be clear of all charges. Therefore, I do not want to be cleared of all charges (since I reason just like Bob).
- Or, Bob is not virtuous, and since I have the same rational and ethical level as Bob, then the Golden Rule is not of much significance to me to begin with.