The maxim of the "golden rule" is exemplified in many Christian stories, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which are unadorned replications of the Jewish Torah: "Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."(Leviticus 19:18 —NJPS)
The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim, ethical code, or morality that essentially states either of the following:
Positive form: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
Negative form: One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
This concept describes a "reciprocal" or "two-way" relationship between one's self and others that involves both sides equally and in a mutual fashion.
As a concept, the Golden Rule has a history that long predates the term "Golden Rule" (or "Golden law", as it was called from the 1670s). As a concept of "the ethic of reciprocity," it has its roots in a wide range of world cultures, and is a standard way that different cultures use to resolve conflicts. It has a long history, and a great number of prominent religious figures and philosophers have restated its reciprocal, "two-way" nature in various ways (not limited to the above forms).
Statements that mirror the Golden Rule appear in Ancient Egypt in the story of The Eloquent Peasant. Rushworth Kidder discusses the early contributions of Confucius (551–479 B.C.) (See a version in Confucianism below). Kidder notes that this concept's framework appears prominently in many religions, including "Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and the rest of the world's major religions". According to Greg M. Epstein, " 'do unto others' ... is a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely." Simon Blackburn also states that the Golden Rule can be "found in some form in almost every ethical tradition".
Some early incarnations of the Golden Rule, found in the Code of Hammurabi, (1780 BCE), dealt with ethical reciprocity in ways, such by limiting retribution to only that which was equal and equitable, as they did concepts of retribution ("an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth").
The Golden Rule existed among all the major philosophical schools of Ancient China: Mohism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Examples of the concept include: "Zi Gong asked, saying, "Is there one word that may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" The Master said, "Is not RECIPROCITY such a word?" – Confucius
"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." – Confucius
"If people regarded other people's families in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own family to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself." – Mozi
"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." –Laozi
"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." –Laozi
An early example of the Golden Rule that reflects the Ancient Egyptian concept of Maat appears in the story of The Eloquent Peasant, which dates to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1650 BCE): "Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you." An example from a Late Period (c. 664 BCE – 323 BCE) papyrus: "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another."
The Golden Rule in its prohibitive form 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 (c. 640–568 BCE)
"Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing." – Thales (c. 624 BC – c. 546 BC)
"What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either. " – Sextus the Pythagorean. The oldest extant reference to Sextus is by Origen in the third century of the common era.
"Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others." – Isocrates(436–338 BCE)
"What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others." – Epictetus
"It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing 'neither to harm nor be harmed'), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life." – Epicurus
"...it has been shown that to injure anyone is never just anywhere." - Socrates, in Plato's Republic. Plato is the first person known to have said this.
In the Section on Virtue, and Chapter 32 of the Tirukkuṛaḷ (c. 200 BC - 500 AD), Tiruvaḷḷuvar says: Why does a man inflict upon other creatures those sufferings, which he has found by experience are sufferings to himself ? (K. 318) Let not a man consent to do those things to another which, he knows, will cause sorrow. (K. 316) He furthermore opined that it is the determination of the spotless (virtuous) not to do evil, even in return, to those who have cherished enmity and done them evil. (K. 312) The (proper) punishment to those who have done evil (to you), is to put them to shame by showing them kindness, in return and to forget both the evil and the good done on both sides. (K. 314)
Religion and philosophy:
The "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic" from the Parliament of the World’s Religions (1993) proclaimed the Golden Rule ("We must treat others as we wish others to treat us") as the common principle for many religions. The Initial Declaration was signed by 143 respected leaders from all of the world's major faiths, including Baha'i Faith, Brahmanism, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Indigenous, Interfaith, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Native American, Neo-Pagan, Sikhism, Taoism, Theosophist, Unitarian Universalist and Zoroastrian. In the folklore of several cultures the Golden Rule is depicted by the allegory of the long spoons.
The Writings of the Bahá'í Faith while encouraging everyone to treat others as they would treat themselves, go further by introducing the concept of preferring others before oneself: O SON OF MAN! Deny not My servant should he ask anything from thee, for his face is My face; be then abashed before Me. —Bahá'u'lláh
Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself. —Bahá'u'lláh
And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself. —Bahá'u'lláh
Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. —Bahá'u'lláh
Beware lest ye harm any soul, or make any heart to sorrow; lest ye wound any man with your words, be he known to you or a stranger, be he friend or foe. —`Abdu'l-Bahá
Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, c. 563 - c. 483 B.C.) made this principle one of the cornerstones of his ethics in the 5th century BCE. It occurs in many places and in many forms throughout the Tripitaka.
Comparing oneself to others in such terms as "Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I," he should neither kill nor cause others to kill. —Sutta Nipata 705
One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter. —Dhammapada 10. Violence
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. —Udanavarga 5:18
Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
According to Simon Blackburn, although the Golden Rule "can be found in some form in almost every ethical tradition", the rule is "sometimes claimed by Christianity as its own". The "Golden Rule" has been attributed to Jesus of Nazareth: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matthew 7:12, see also Luke 6:31). The common English phrasing is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". A similar form appeared in a Catholic catechism around 1567 (certainly in the reprint of 1583). The Golden Rule also has roots in the two old testament 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").
The Old Testament Deuterocanonical books of Tobit and Sirach, accepted as part of the Scriptural canon by Catholic Church, 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
"Recognize that your neighbor feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes." —Sirach 31:15 At the time of Hillel, an elder contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, the negative form of the golden rule already must have been proverbial, perhaps because of 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
Two passages in the New Testament quote Jesus of Nazareth espousing the golden rule: Matthew 7:12
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. Luke 6:31
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. A similar passage, a parallel to the Great Commandment, is Luke 10:25-28
And one day an authority on the law stood up to put Jesus to the test. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?”
What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you understand it?” 27He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your strength and with all your mind.’(Deuteronomy 6:5) And, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ ”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do that, and you will 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. 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.
In one passage of the New Testament Saint Paul refers to the golden rule:
Galatians 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this;Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
"What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others."
Zi gong (a disciple of Confucius) asked: "Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?" The Master replied: "How about 'shu' [reciprocity]: never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself?" --Confucius, Analects XV.24, tr. David Hinton (another translation is in the online Chinese Text Project)
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)
If the entire “Dharma” (spiritual and moral laws) can be said in a few words, then it is - that which is unfavorable to us, do not do that to others. (Padmapuraana, shrushti 19/357-358)
Many different sources claim the Golden Rule as a humanist principle: 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.
According to Greg M. Epstein, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard University, " 'do unto others' ... is a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely. But not a single one of these versions of the golden rule requires a God".
The Golden Rule is implicitly expressed in some verses of Qur'an, but is explicitly declared in the sayings of Muhammad.
From the Qur'an: the first verse recommends the positive form of the rule, and the subsequent verses condemn not abiding the negative form of the Golden Rule:
“...and you should forgive And overlook: Do you not like God to forgive you? And Allah is The Merciful Forgiving.” — Qur’an (Surah 24, "The Light," v. 22)
“Woe to those... who, when they have to receive by measure from men, they demand exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due” — Qur’an (Surah 83, "The Dealers in Fraud," vv. 1–4)
“...orphans and the needy, give them something and speak kindly to them. And those who are concerned about the welfare of their own children after their death, should have fear of God [Treat other people's Orphans justly] and guide them properly.” — Qur’an (Surah 4, "The Women," vv. 8-9)
“O you who believe! Spend [benevolently] of the good things that you have earned... and do not even think of spending [in alms] worthless things that you yourselves would be reluctant to accept.” — Qur’an (Surah 2, "The Calf," v. 267)
“They assign daughters to Allah, Who is above having a child [whether male or female] and to themselves they assign what they desire [which is a male child]; And when the news of the birth of a female child is brought to one of them His face darkens and he hides his inward Grief and anger... They attribute to Allah what they dislike [For themselves] and their tongues assert the lie that the best reward will be theirs! Undoubtedly, the Hell fire shall be their lot and they will be foremost [in entering it].” — Qur’an (Surah 16, "The Honey Bees," vv. 57-62)
From the hadith, the collected oral and written accounts of Muhammad and his teachings during his lifetime: A Bedouin came to the prophet, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said: O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with it. Prophet said: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don't do to them. Now let the stirrup go! [This maxim is enough for you; go and act in accordance with it!]” —Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146
“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” —An-Nawawi's Forty Hadith 13 (p. 56)
“Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer.” —Sukhanan-i-Muhammad (Teheran, 1938)
“That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind."
“The most righteous person is the one who consents for other people what he consents for himself, and who dislikes for them what he dislikes for himself.”
Ali ibn Abi Talib (4th Caliph in Sunni Islam, and first Imam in Shia Islam) says: “O' my child, make yourself the measure (for dealings) between you and others. Thus, you should desire for others what you desire for yourself and hate for others what you hate for yourself. Do not oppress as you do not like to be oppressed. Do good to others as you would like good to be done to you. Regard bad for yourself whatever you regard bad for others. Accept that (treatment) from others which you would like others to accept from you... Do not say to others what you do not like to be said to you.” —Nahjul Balaghah, Letter 31
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
The 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.
Saman Suttam of Jinendra Varni gives further insight into this precept:- 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
One concept of the Golden Rule originates in a well-known Torah verse (Hebrew: "ואהבת לרעך כמוך"): You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. —Leviticus 19:18, the "Great Commandment"
This Torah verse represents one of several versions of the Golden Rule, which itself appears in various forms, positive and negative. It is one of the earliest written versions of that concept in a positive form. 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. —Leviticus 19:34
Some deputized the excluding opinion: "neighbor" only refers to Jews and proselytes. Others summed up Samaritans as the proselytes (= 'strangers who resides with you') (Rabbi Akiba, bQuid 75b) or Jews (Rabbi Gamaliel, yKet 3,1; 27a).
The Sage Hillel formulated a negative form of the golden rule. 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, the "Great Principle"
On the verse, "Love your fellow as yourself," the classic commentator Rashi quotes from Torat 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."
Israel's postal service quoted from the previous Leviticus verse when it commemorated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on a 1958 postage stamp.
If people regarded other people's families in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own family to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself. —Mozi
Mozi regarded the golden rule as a corollary to the cardinal virtue of impartiality, and encouraged egalitarianism and selflessness in relationships.
The Golden Rule appears to be present in at least one of Plato's dialogues: 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) (c. 469 BC–399 BCE)
"Oh, do as you would be done by. And do unto all men as you would have them do unto you, for this is but the law and the prophet." Postscript to the Quaker peace testimony, signed by George Fox.
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
I am a stranger to no one, and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all. —p.1299, Guru Granth Sahib
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
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
These eight words the Rede fulfill, 'an ye harm none do as ye will. —The Wiccan Rede
Here ye these words and heed them well, the words of Dea, thy Mother Goddess, "I command thee thus, O children of the Earth, that that which ye deem harmful unto thyself, the very same shall ye be forbidden from doing unto another, for violence and hatred give rise to the same. My command is thus, that ye shall return all violence and hatred with peacefulness and love, for my Law is love unto all things. Only through love shall ye have peace; yea and verily, only peace and love will cure the world, and subdue all evil. —Codex Vias, Part Two
According to Marc H. Bornstein, and William E. Paden, the Golden Rule is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights, in which each individual has a right to just treatment, and a reciprocal responsibility to ensure justice for others.
However Leo Damrosch argued that the notion that the Golden Rule pertains to "rights" per se is a contemporary interpretation and has nothing to do with its origin. The development of human "rights" is a modern political ideal that began as a philosophical concept promulgated through the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau in 18th century France, among others. His writings influenced Thomas Jefferson, who then incorporated Rousseau's reference to "inalienable rights" into the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. Damrosch argued that to confuse the Golden Rule with human rights is to apply contemporary thinking to ancient concepts.
If the negative/prohibitive form of the Golden Rule (the Silver Rule) would stand alone, it would simply serve as a prohibition against wrong action. But the Golden Rule in general actually serves as a motivation toward proactive action. As Dr. Frank Crane put it, "The Golden Rule is of no use to you whatsoever unless you realize that it's your move!"
Criticisms and responses to criticisms:
Many people have criticized the golden rule; George Bernard Shaw once said that "the golden rule is that there are no golden rules". Shaw suggested an alternative rule: "Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same" (Maxims for Revolutionists; 1903). Karl Popper wrote: "The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever reasonable, as they want to be done by" (The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2). This concept has recently been called "The Platinum Rule."
Philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, have objected to the rule on a variety of grounds. 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.
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. Kant's Categorical Imperative, introduced in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, is often confused with the Golden Rule.
Responses to criticisms:
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.
Marcus George Singer observed that there are two importantly different ways of looking at the golden rule: as requiring (1) that you perform specific actions that you want others to do to you or (2) 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.
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.
We have collected as many variations of the Golden Rule throughout our listings. For more information on the Golden Rule, please go to the Wikipedia entry.