In his 2008 book, closely based off the text of his 2005 Gifford Lecture, Goodman attempts to offer a Jewish influenced reading of the golden rule, the injunction to love thy neighbor as thyself. Beginning with a general discussion on ‘love and the ethical’ Goodman argues against a normative ethics and towards a radical reassessment of the golden rule found in various forms across the three main Abrahamic faiths. Turning to the words in question Goodman claims that the golden rule reflects not any kind of normative command – which would make ethics a hierarchical duty imposed upon us by a distant God. Rather Goodman’s understanding of the command to love thy neighbor as thyself stems from a deeply argued dialog between our moral knowledge and the idea of God. Rather than enforce any kind of separation between natural theology and ethics, Goodman draws upon Jewish philosophy, scripture and the philosophical canon to weave together a tightly argued and concise view on the golden rule as something that becomes part of the community through the action of its members whilst simultaneously pointing towards the perfection of God.
This understanding of the golden rule as embodying a dialog rather than any kind of prescriptive command ethical theory allows Goodman to argue for an understanding of society based on democratic and religious pluralism without compromising any kind of confessional religious loyalty. By enacting this rule and genuinely placing the needs of the Other above the self, Goodman raises the possibility of a genuinely humane and humanistic society, an image increasingly relevant in an era where secular and religious xenophobia and extremism seem to be growing rapidly more extremist. This argument puts forward a genuinely radical acceptance of the Other that doesn’t depend upon arbitrary notions of favoritism but a true appreciation of the image of God in all created things.
Following the densely argued albeit somewhat brief text closely based on Goodman’s lecture the volume concludes with a large Q&A section based on questions and objections raised in the course of the lecture series. Here, Goodman is able to respond to issues and objections expanding his argument upon questions such as original sin, theistic subjectivism and the justification of ethics.
The complete text is one that demonstrates the deep philosophical basis of Goodman’s Jewish perspective as well as proving him to be an excellent dialectical thinker able to draw upon an impressive range of sources and traditions. Given the focus so often given to the ‘conflict’ between natural science and theology it’s deeply rewarding to see a volume that recognizes the vital intersection between the practicalities of living in a pluralistic society and the strictures of a religious tradition.