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Related to the ethical principle of the Golden Rule, the Silver Rule is most commonly understood to be "Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you," or similar expressions. Some such expressions, found in philosophical and religious literature, are considered versions of the golden rule, and there is some controversy over whether the Golden Rule and Silver Rule should be considered different expressions of the same underlying idea, or whether they differ logically, ethically, or practically. The Old Testament deuterocanonical books of Tobit (4:15) and Sirach (31:15) accepted as part of the Scriptural canon by Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy also express the Silver Rule.

The golden rule may be said to describe or emphasize positive duties, the silver rule negative ones. As such, the silver rule may avoid some criticisms of the golden rule, which seems to suggest that we should do things to other which they don't want done to them, just because we want them done to us. The article on the golden rule has a more extensive discussion of these and objections to the golden rule. On the other hand, the silver rule can be criticized for being too easily satisfied, and hence insufficient to base morality on, if it never requires us to engage in acts of benevolence, assistance, etc.

Some authors understand the silver rule to be the shorter principle "Do no harm." In this version, it is often attributed to the Hippocratic Oath, and used in medical discussions. However, it is not found in the Hippocratic Oath, but a similar statement was made by Hippocrates in his Epidemics, Bk. I, Sect. XI. One translation reads: "Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future; practice these acts. As to diseases, make a habit of two things — to help, or at least to do no harm."

The shorter expression might be interpreted as a simplification of the longer one, however the latter preserves the parallelism with the golden rule.

The Silver Rule has been championed by Gandhi and Martin Luther King alike as a way to compensate for the Golden Rule's shortcomings.

See also

  • Harm principle, the liberal principle that one has the right to do what one pleases so long as it does not harm the rights of another.
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