Golden rule

From Nordan Symposia
(Redirected from Golden Rule)
Jump to navigationJump to search



The ethic of reciprocity is a fundamental moral value which "refers to the balance in an interactive system such that each party has both rights and duties, and the subordinate norm of complementarity states that one's rights are the other's obligation. In essence, it is an ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others. Reciprocity is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights, though it has its critics.

Many assign the imperative commandment of Golden Rule as instruction for a positive only form of reciprocity. A key element of the golden rule is that a person attempting to live by this rule treats all people, not just members of his or her in-group, with consideration. The golden rule, with roots in a wide range of world cultures, is well suited to be a standard to which different cultures could appeal in resolving conflicts. Principal philosophers and religious figures have stated it in different ways.

For lessons on the topic of Ethics, follow this link.

Ancient Greek philosophy

The Golden Rule was a common principle in ancient Greek philosophy. A few examples:

"Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him." (Pittacus)
"Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing." (Thales) Diogenes Laërtius, "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers", I,36
"What you wish your neighbors to be to you, such be also to them." (Sextus the Pythagorean)Sextus, 406 B.C.
"Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others." (Isocrates)Isocrates, "Nicocles",6
"What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others." (Epictetus) Epictetus, "Encheiridion"
"It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing 'neither to harm nor be harmed'Epicurus on Freedom
and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life." (Epicurus)Epicurus Principal Doctrines tranls. by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)


Global ethic

The "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic" Towards a Global Ethic from the Parliament of the World’s ReligionsThe Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. (1993) proclaimed the Golden Rule (both in negative and positive form) as the common principle for many religions.[1] Towards a Global Ethic (An Initial Declaration) The Initial Declaration was signed by 143 leaders from different faith traditions and spiritual communities.


Putting oneself in the place of another,
one should not kill nor cause another to kill.Detachment and Compassion in Early Buddhism by Elizabeth J. Harris (
One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other
beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.

In addition, the Dalai Lama has stated:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. [2]

Baha'i Faith

From the sacred scriptures of the Baha'i Faith:

"Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not." Baha'u'llah.Words of Wisdom

"Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself." Baha'u'llah;[3]

"And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself." Baha'u'llah.[4]]


Within Christian circles, the ethic of reciprocity is often called the "Golden Rule". Christianity adopted the ethic from two edicts, found in ("Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.") and ("But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God"). Crucially, Leviticus 19:34 universalizes the edict of Leviticus 19:18 from "one of your people" to all of humankind.

The Old Testament Deuterocanonical books of Tobit and Sirach accepted as part of the Scriptural canon by Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Non-Chalcedonian Churches also express the Silver Rule.

Tobit 4:15 "Do to no one what you yourself dislike."

Sirach 31:15 "Recognize that your neighbor feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes."

Several passages in the New Testament quote Jesus of Nazareth espousing the ethic of reciprocity, including the following:

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

"And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

Jesus then proceeded to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, indicating that "your neighbour" means a total stranger, or someone that happens to be nearby.


Confucius said in the Analects:

"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." - Analects XV.24, tr. David Hinton

The same idea is also presented in V.12 and VI.30 of the Analects.


The Golden rule appears in the Mahabharata, where Brihaspati says:

"One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires." (Mahabharata, (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, verse 8 Mahabharata Book 13

In addition to the law of karma, the Bhagavad Gita contains a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna with the statement:

That one I love who is incapable of ill will, And returns love for hatred. Bhagavad-Gita: Chapter 12, Verse 18,19

As portrayed by Swami Vivekanand- Do good and forget, don't expect any reward


In his Last Sermon, the Muhammad cautioned believers:

  • "Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you."

Jeffrey Wattles holds that the ethic of reciprocity appears in the following statements attributed to Muhammad: Jeffrey Wattles, The Golden Rule (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) 4, 191-192, Questia, 24 July 2007

  • “Woe to those . . . who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due”Qur’an (Surah 83, "The Unjust," vv. 1-4) Wattles (191)
  • The Qur'an commends "those who show their affection to such as came to them for refuge and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves" Qur’an (Surah 59, "Exile," vv. 9)
  • “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”Wattles (191)
  • "Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer; treat well as a neighbor the one who lives near you, that you may be a Muslim [one who submits to God]."Wattles (192)
  • “That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.”
  • "The most righteous of men is the one who is glad that men should have what is pleasing to himself, and who dislikes for them what is for him disagreeable."


In Jainism, the ethic of reciprocity is firmly embedded in its entire philosophy and can be seen in its clearest form in the doctrines of Ahimsa and Karma

  • Following quotation from the Acaranga Sutra sums up the philosophy of Jainism :

"Nothing which breathes, which exists, which lives, or which has essence or potential of life, should be destroyed or ruled over, or subjugated, or harmed, or denied of its essence or potential."

In support of this Truth, I ask you a question - "Is sorrow or pain desirable to you ?" If you say "yes it is", it would be a lie. If you say, "No, It is not" you will be expressing the truth. Just as sorrow or pain is not desirable to you, so it is to all which breathe, exist, live or have any essence of life. To you and all, it is undesirable, and painful, and repugnant. [5] Sutra 155-6

  • Saman Suttam of Jinendra Varni gives further insight into this percepts:-

"All the living beings wish to live and not to die; that is why unattached saints prohibit the killing of living beings." verse 148

"Just as pain is not agreeable to you, it is so with others. Knowing this principle of equality treat other with respect and compassion. verse 150

"Killing a living being is killing one's own self; showing compassion to a living being is showing compassion to oneself. He who desires his own good, should avoid causing any harm to a living being." verse 151


The ethic of reciprocity is set forth in the Great Commandment ("You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD." ("The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the LORD am your God."

The Sage Hillel formulated the Golden Rule in order to illustrate the underlying principles of Jewish moral law:

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn. Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Rabbi Akiba emphasized the importance of Leviticus 19:18.

Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

None of these traditional formulations speak of any positive duty to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


  • "Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien.
  • "The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful." Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49


Many people have criticized the golden rule; George Bernard Shaw once said that "The golden rule is that there are no golden rules". Shaw also criticized the golden rule, "Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same." (Maxims for Revolutionists). "The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever possible, as they want to be done by." Karl Popper [6] Philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, have objected to the rule on a variety of grounds. [7] The most serious among these is its application. How does one know how others want to be treated? The obvious way is to ask them, but this cannot be done if one assumes they have not reached a particular and relevant understanding.

Differences in values or interests

Shaw's comment about differing tastes suggests that if your values are not shared with others, the way you want to be treated will not be the way they want to be treated. For example, it has been said that a sadist is just a masochist who follows the golden rule. Another often used example of this inconsistency is that of the man walking into a bar looking for a fight. [8] How would you feel, if a million Soviet troops stormed your Reich Capital? It could also be used by a seducer to suggest that he should kiss an object of his affection because he wants that person to kiss him. Similar objections also apply to the so-called "platinum rule," for if a seducer wants a woman to kiss him, but she does not want him to, it follows from this rule that the seducer should not kiss her--but that she should kiss him.

Differences in situations

Immanuel Kant famously criticized the golden rule for not being sensitive to differences of situation, noting that a prisoner duly convicted of a crime could appeal to the golden rule while asking the judge to release him, pointing out that the judge would not want anyone else to send him to prison, so he should not do so to others. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Cambridge University Press 1997, p68, also his Critique of Practical Reason, trans. T.K. Abbott, 6th ed., p48note


Walter Terence Stace, in The Concept of Morals (1937), wrote:

"Mr. Bernard Shaw's remark "Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may be different" is no doubt a smart saying. But it seems to overlook the fact that "doing as you would be done by" includes taking into account your neighbor's tastes as you would that he should take yours into account. Thus the "golden rule" might still expresss the essence of a universal morality even if no two men in the world had any needs or tastes in common".

M. G. Singer observed that there are two importantly different ways of looking at the golden rule: as requiring that you perform specific actions that you want others to do to you, or that you guide your behavior in the same general ways that you want others to. Counter-examples to the golden rule typically are more forceful against the first than the second. In his book on the golden rule, Jeffrey Wattles makes the similar observation that such objections typically arise while applying the golden rule in certain general ways (namely, ignoring differences in taste, in situation, and so forth). But if we apply the golden rule to our own method of using it, asking in effect if we would want other people to apply the golden rule in such ways, the answer would typically be no, since it is quite predictable that others' ignoring of such factors will lead to behavior which we object to. It follows that we should not do so ourselves--according to the golden rule. In this way, the golden rule may be self-correcting. An article by Jouni Reinikainen develops this suggestion in greater detail.

It is possible, then, that the golden rule can itself guide us in identifying which differences of situation are morally relevant. We would often want other people to ignore our race or nationality when deciding how to act towards us, but would also want them to not ignore our differing preferences in food, desire for aggressiveness, and so on. The platinum rule, and perhaps other variants, might also be self-correcting in this same manner.

Science of the Golden Rule

There has been research published arguing that some of fair play and the Golden Rule may be stated and rooted in terms of neuroscientific principles.Pfaff, Donald W., "The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule", Dana Press, The Dana Foundation, New York, 2007. ISBN 9781932594270


  1. Bornstein, Marc H. (2002). Handbook of Parenting. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 5. ISBN 978-0-8058-3782-7. See also: Paden, William E. (2003). Interpreting the Sacred: Ways of Viewing Religion. Beacon Press. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-0-8070-7705-4.
  2. Pittacus, Fragm. 10.3
  3. Diogenes Laërtius, "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers", I,36
  4. Sextus, 406 B.C.
  5. Isocrates, "Nicocles",6
  6. Epictetus, "Encheiridion"
  7. Tim O'Keefe, Epicurus on Freedom, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.134
  8. Epicurus Principal Doctrines tranls. by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)
  9. Towards a Global Ethic
  10. The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions.
  11. Towards a Global Ethic (An Initial Declaration)
  12. Detachment and Compassion in Early Buddhism by Elizabeth J. Harris (
  13. (Dhammapada 10. Violence)
  14. Dalai Lama. "Quotes from the Dalai Lama" (html). Retrieved on 2007-10-14.
  15. Words of Wisdom See: The Golden Rule
  16. Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, LXVI:8
  17. Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah, p10
  18. The Golden Rule Baha'i Faith
  19. Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p71
  20. The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh -- Part II
  21. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p30
  22. Mahabharata Book 13
  23. Bhagavad-Gita: Chapter 12, Verse 18,19
  24. Jeffrey Wattles, The Golden Rule (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) 4, 191-192, Questia, 24 July 2007
  25. Qur’an (Surah 83, "The Unjust," vv. 1-4)
Wattles (191)
Rost, H.T.D. The Golden Rule: A Universal Ethic, 100. Oxford, 1986
  1. Qur’an (Surah 59, "Exile," vv. 9) Wattles (192) Rost (100)
  2. An-Nawawi's Forty Hadith 13 (p. 56) Wattles (191) Rost (100)
  3. Sukhanan-i-Muhammad (Teheran, 1938) [English Title: Conversations of Muhammad] Wattles (192) Rost (100) Donaldson Dwight M. 1963. Studies in Muslim Ethics, p.82. London: S.P.C.K
  4. Jacobi, Hermann (1884). Ācāranga Sūtra, Jain Sutras Part I, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 22.. Sutra 155-6
  5. Varni, Jinendra; Ed. Prof. Sagarmal Jain, Translated Justice T.K. Tukol and Dr. K.K. Dixit (1993). Samaṇ Suttaṁ. New Delhi: Bhagwan Mahavir memorial Samiti.
  6. New JPS Hebrew/English Tanakh
  7. Gensler, Harry J. (1996). Formal Ethics. Routledge. pp. 105. ISBN 0415130662.
  8. Talmud, Shabbat 31a
  9. Sol Singer Collection of Philatelic Judaica - Emory University
  10. The Busybody: The Platinum Rule
  11. Only a Game: The Golden Rule
  12. How would you feel, if a million Soviet troops stormed your Reich Capital?
  13. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Cambridge University Press 1997, p68, also his Critique of Practical Reason, trans. T.K. Abbott, 6th ed., p48note
  14. Stace, Walter T. (1937, Reprinted 1975 by permission of MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc.). The Concept of Morals. New York: The MacMillan Company. pp. 136. ISBN 0-8446-2990-1.
  15. M.G. Singer, The Ideal of a Rational Morality, p270
  16. Wattles, p6
  17. Jouni Reinikainen, "The Golden Rule and the Requirement of Universalizability." Journal of Value Inquiry. 39(2): 155-168, 2005.
  18. Pfaff, Donald W., "The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule", Dana Press, The Dana Foundation, New York, 2007. ISBN 9781932594270