The Golden Rule (ethics): Wikis


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The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Other religions and Humanism also teach the golden rule.[1]

The Golden Rule is an ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others. It is also called the ethic of reciprocity. It is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights, though it has its critics.[2] 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 appears to have an evolutionary basis, see Reciprocity (evolution).

It exists in both positive (generally structured in the form of "do to others what you would like to be done to you") and negative form (structured in the form of "do not do to others what you would not like to be done to you"). While similar, these forms are not strictly the same; they differ in what to do with what you would like to be done to you and the other party would not like to be done upon it. The negative form, known as the Silver Rule does directly not contain this while the positive form can exclude it indirectly with that you would like from others to check if you really like it, which is an example of using the golden rule in a context which makes it self-correcting, as argued in the criticisms section.

The golden rule has its roots in a wide range of world cultures, and is a standard which different cultures use to resolve conflicts;[3] it was present in the philosophies of ancient India, Greece, Judea and China. Principal philosophers and religious figures have stated it in different ways, but its most common English phrasing is attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the Biblical book of Matthew: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (s:Bible (King James)/Matthew#7:12, s:Bible (King James)/Matthew#22:39) The "Do unto others" wording first appeared in English in a Catholic Catechism around 1567, but certainly in the reprint of 1583.[4]


Ancient Egypt

An early example of the Golden Rule that reflects the Ancient Egyptian concept of Maat appears in the story of The Eloquent Peasant which is dated to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040 - 1650 BCE): "Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do".[5] An example from a Late Period (c. 1080 - 332 BCE) papyrus: "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another".[6] It also appears in the Book of the Dead (1580-1350 BCE): "He sought for others the good he desired for himself. Let him pass."

Ancient Greek philosophy

The Golden Rule was a common principle in ancient Greek philosophy. Examples of the general concept include:

  • "Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him." – Pittacus[7]
  • "Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing." – Thales[8]
  • "What you wish your neighbors to be to you, such be also to them." – Sextus the Pythagorean[9]
  • "Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others." – Isocrates[10]
  • "What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others." – Epictetus[11]
  • "It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing 'neither to harm nor be harmed'[12]), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life." – Epicurus[13]
  • "One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him." - Plato's Socrates (Crito, 49c)

Religion and philosophy


Global ethic

The "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic"[14] from the Parliament of the World’s Religions[15] (1993) proclaimed the Golden Rule (both in negative and positive form) as the common principle for many religions.[16] The Initial Declaration was signed by 143 leaders from different faith traditions and spiritual communities.[16]


Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.
Dhammapada 10. Violence

Baha'i Faith

From the 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.
Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.
— Baha'u'llah[21][22]
And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.
— Baha'u'llah[23][24]


Christianity adopted the golden rule from two edicts, found in Leviticus 19:18 ("Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.", see also Great Commandment) and Leviticus 19:34 ("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 a negative form of the golden rule:

  • "Do to no one what you yourself dislike." (Tobit 4:15)
    • At the time of Hillel, an elder contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, the negative form of the golden rule already must have been proverbial, because of the accordances with Tobit 4:15. When asked to sum up the entire Torah concisely, he answered: "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)
  • "Recognize that your neighbor feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes." (Sirach 31:15)

Several passages in the New Testament quote Jesus of Nazareth espousing the golden rule, including the following:

Matthew 7:12

12Therefore 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.

Luke 6:31

31And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

Luke 10:25-28

25And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27And 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. 28And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

The passage in the book of Luke then continues with Jesus answering the question, "Who is my neighbor?", by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, indicating that "your neighbour" is anyone in need.[25] Jesus' teaching, however, goes beyond the negative formulation of not doing what one would not like done to themselves, to the positive formulation of actively doing good to another that, if the situations were reversed, one would desire that the other would do for them. This formulation, as indicated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, emphasises the needs for positive action that brings benefit to another, not simply restraining oneself from negative activities that hurt another. Taken as a rule of judgement, both formulations of the golden rule, the negative and positive, are equally applicable.[26]


Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.
Confucius, Analects XV.24 (tr. David Hinton)

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


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.
Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8)[27]


Many different sources claim the Golden Rule as a humanist principle.[1][28]

Trying to live according to the Golden Rule means trying to empathise with other people, including those who may be very different from us. Empathy is at the root of kindness, compassion, understanding and respect – qualities that we all appreciate being shown, whoever we are, whatever we think and wherever we come from. And although it isn’t possible to know what it really feels like to be a different person or live in different circumstances and have different life experiences, it isn’t difficult for most of us to imagine what would cause us suffering and to try to avoid causing suffering to others. For this reason many people find the Golden Rule’s corollary – “do not treat people in a way you would not wish to be treated yourself” – more pragmatic.[1]


Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.

Jeffrey Wattles holds that the golden rule appears in the following statements attributed to Muhammad:[29]

  • “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”[30]
  • 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"[31]
  • “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”[32]
  • "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]."[33]
  • “That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.”[33]
  • "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."[33]


In Jainism, the golden rule 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.[34]

All the living beings wish to live and not to die; that is why unattached saints prohibit the killing of living beings.
Suman Suttam , 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.
Suman Suttam , 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.
Suman Suttam , verse 151


The concept of the Golden Rule originates most famously in a Torah verse (Hebrew: "ואהבת לרעיך כמוך") :

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

This Torah verse represents one of several version of the Golden Rule, which itself appears in various forms, positive and negative. It is seemingly the oldest written version of that concept in a positive form.[37] All versions and forms of the proverbial Golden Rule have one aspect in common, they all call for others the equal manner and respect we want for ourselves.

At the turn of the eras, the Jewish rabbis were discussing the scope of the meaning of Leviticus 19:18 and 19:34 extensively.

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.

Some deputized the excluding opinion, "neighbor" only refers to Jews and proselytes. Others summed up Samaritans unto the proselytes (= 'strangers who resides with you') (Rabbi Akiba, bQuid 75b) or Jews (Rabbi Gamaliel, yKet 3,1; 27a).

The Sage Hillel, an elder contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, formulated a negative form of the golden rule. When asked to sum up the entire Torah concisely, he answered:[38]

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, the "Great Principle"

On the verse, "Love your fellow as yourself," the classic commentator Rashi quotes from Toras Kohanim, an early Midrashic text regarding the famous dictum of Rabbi Akiva: "Love your fellow as yourself — Rabbi Akiva says this is a great principle of the Torah."[39]

The Hassidic perspective of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi based on the teachings of the Zohar implores one to "repay the offenders with favors":

"So, too, in matters affecting a person's relations with his fellow, as soon as there rises from his heart to his mind any animosity or hatred, G-d forbid, or jealousy, anger, or a grudge and the like, he allows them no entrance into his mind and will. On the contrary, his mind exercises its authority and power over the feelings in his heart to do the very opposite, namely, to conduct himself towards his fellow with the quality of kindness and a display of abundant love to the extreme limits, without becoming provoked into anger, G-d forbid, or to revenge in kind, G-d forbid, but rather to repay the offenders with favors, as taught in the Zohar, that one should learn from the example of Yosef [Joseph] towards his brothers." (Tanya, ch. 12)

Israel's postal service quoted from the previous Leviticus verse when it commemorated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on a 1958 postage stamp.[40]


Whom should I despise, since the one Lord made us all.
— p.1237, Var Sarang, Guru Granth Sahib (tr. Patwant Singh)
The truly enlightened ones are those who neither incite fear in others nor fear anyone themselves.
— p.1427, Slok, Guru Granth Sahib (tr. Patwant Singh)


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.
— Chapter 49, Tao Teh Ching
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


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 reasonable, as they want to be done by." Karl Popper (The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2) This concept has recently been called "The Platinum Rule"[41] Philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, have objected to the rule on a variety of grounds.[42] 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.[43]

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.


These obstacles to living by the golden rule are sometimes cited:

  • People dispute the meaning of the golden rule,
  • Ego involvement,
  • treating jerks as they deserve to be treated,
  • self defense,
  • punishing enemies,
  • needing to win and defeat rivals,
  • oppression makes compassion difficult[44]
  • People may become disappointed or resentful if they are not treated as well in return as they perceive they have treated others,
  • People may expect to be treated as "well" as they treat others,


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 express the essence of a universal morality even if no two men in the world had any needs or tastes in common.[45]

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.[46] 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.[47] An article by Jouni Reinikainen develops this suggestion in greater detail.[48]

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.

Scientific research

There has been research published arguing that some 'sense' of fair play and the Golden Rule may be stated and rooted in terms of neuroscientific and neuroethical principles.[49]


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ Defined another way, it "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."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.  
  3. ^ Stace, Walter T. (1937, Reprinted 1975 by permission of MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc.). The Concept of Morals. New York: The MacMillan Company. pp. chapters on Ethical Relativity (pp 1–68), and Unity of Morals (pp 92–107, specifically p 93, 98, 102). ISBN 0-8446-2990-1.  
  4. ^ Vaux, Laurence (1583, Reprinted by The Chetham Society in 1885). A Catechisme / or / Christian Doctrine. Manchester, England: The Chetham Society. pp. 47.  
  5. ^ "The Culture of Ancient Egypt", John Albert Wilson, p. 121, University of Chicago Press, 1956, ISBN 0226901521
  6. ^ "A Late Period Hieratic Wisdom Text: P. Brooklyn 47.218.135", Richard Jasnow, p. 95, University of Chicago Press, 1992, ISBN 9780918986856
  7. ^ Pittacus, Fragm. 10.3
  8. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers", I,36
  9. ^ Sextus, 406 B.C.
  10. ^ Isocrates, "Nicocles",6
  11. ^ Epictetus, "Encheiridion"
  12. ^ Tim O'Keefe, Epicurus on Freedom, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.134
  13. ^ Epicurus Principal Doctrines tranls. by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)
  14. ^ Towards a Global Ethic
  15. ^ The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions.
  16. ^ a b Towards a Global Ethic (An Initial Declaration)
  17. ^ Detachment and Compassion in Early Buddhism by Elizabeth J. Harris (
  18. ^ Words of Wisdom See: The Golden Rule
  19. ^ Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, LXVI:8
  20. ^ Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah, p10
  21. ^ The Golden Rule Baha'i Faith
  22. ^ Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p71
  23. ^ The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh -- Part II
  24. ^ Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p30
  25. ^ John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on Luke 10
  26. ^ Moore: Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era; Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1927-1930; Vol.2, p.87, Vol.3, p.180.
  27. ^ Mahabharata Book 13
  28. ^
  29. ^ Jeffrey Wattles, The Golden Rule (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) 4, 191-192, Questia, 24 July 2007
  30. ^ Qur’an (Surah 83, "The Unjust," vv. 1-4)
    Wattles (191)
    Rost, H.T.D. The Golden Rule: A Universal Ethic, 100. Oxford, 1986
  31. ^ Qur’an (Surah 59, "Exile," vv. 9)
    Wattles (192)
    Rost (100)
  32. ^ An-Nawawi's Forty Hadith 13 (p. 56)
    Wattles (191)
    Rost (100)
  33. ^ a b c 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
  34. ^ Jacobi, Hermann (1884). Ācāranga Sūtra, Jain Sutras Part I, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 22..   Sutra 155-6
  35. ^ *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.  
  36. ^ a b New JPS Hebrew/English Tanakh
  37. ^ Plaut: The Torah - A Modern Commentary; Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York 1981; pp.892.
  38. ^ Gensler, Harry J. (1996). Formal Ethics. Routledge. pp. 105. ISBN 0415130662.  
  39. ^ Kedoshim 19:18, Toras Kohanim, ibid. See also Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4; Bereishis Rabbah 24:7.
  40. ^ Sol Singer Collection of Philatelic Judaica - Emory University
  41. ^ The Busybody: The Platinum Rule
  42. ^ Only a Game: The Golden Rule
  43. ^ How would you feel, if a million Soviet troops stormed your Reich Capital?
  44. ^ Leland R. Beaumont. "The Golden Alliance Web Site". Retrieved 2009-12-16.  
  45. ^ Stace, Walter T. (1937, Reprinted 1975 by permission of MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc., Also reprinted January 1990 by Peter Smith Publisher Inc). The Concept of Morals. New York: The MacMillan Company; and also reprinted by Peter Smith Publisher Inc, January 1990. p. 136. ISBN 0-8446-2990-1.  
  46. ^ M.G. Singer, The Ideal of a Rational Morality, p270
  47. ^ Wattles, p6
  48. ^ Jouni Reinikainen, "The Golden Rule and the Requirement of Universalizability." Journal of Value Inquiry. 39(2): 155-168, 2005.
  49. ^ 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

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