The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a moral maxim or principle of altruism found in many human cultures and religions, suggesting it may be related to a fundamental human nature. The maxim may appear as either a positive or negative injunction governing conduct:
- One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself (positive or directive form).
- One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (negative or prohibitive form).
- What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself (empathic or responsive form).
The Golden Rule differs from the maxim of reciprocity captured in do ut des - "I give so that you will give in return" - and is rather a unilateral moral commitment to the well-being of the other without the expectation of anything in return.
The concept occurs in some form in nearly every religion and ethical tradition. It can also be explained from the perspectives of psychology, philosophy, sociology, and economics. Psychologically, it involves a person empathizing with others. Philosophically, it involves a person perceiving their neighbor also as "I" or "self". Sociologically, 'love your neighbor as yourself' is applicable between individuals, between groups, and also between individuals and groups. In economics, Richard Swift, referring to ideas from David Graeber, suggests that "without some kind of reciprocity society would no longer be able to exist." 
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Antiquity
- 3 Religious context
- 3.1 Abrahamic religions
- 3.2 Indian religions
- 3.3 East Asian religions
- 3.4 Iranian Religions
- 3.5 New Religious Movements
- 4 Secular context
- 5 Other contexts
- 6 Criticism of the Golden Rule as stated in "Do unto others"
- 7 Scientific research
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Possibly the earliest affirmation of reciprocity reflecting the Ancient Egyptian goddess, Ma'at, who appears in the story of The Eloquent Peasant, which dates to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040 – c. 1650 BC): "Now this is the command: Do to the doer to make him do." This proverb embodies the do ut des principle. A Late Period (c. 664 BC – 323 BC) papyrus contains an early negative affirmation of the Golden Rule: "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another."
Ancient Near East
- "Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." — Confucius(c. 500 BC)
- "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 (c. 400 BC)
- "Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." — Laozi (c. 500 BC)
In Mahābhārata, the ancient epic of India, (c 800-700 BC) comes a discourse where the wise minister Vidura advises the King Yuddhiśhṭhira thus, "Listening to wise scriptures, austerity, sacrifice, respectful faith, social welfare, forgiveness, purity of intent, compassion, truth and self-control — are the ten wealth of character (self). O king aim for these, may you be steadfast in these qualities. These are the basis of prosperity and rightful living. These are highest attainable things. All worlds are balanced on dharma, dharma encompasses ways to prosperity as well. O King, dharma is the best quality to have, wealth the medium and desire (kāma) the lowest. Hence, (keeping these in mind), by self-control and by making dharma (right conduct) your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself."
tasmād_dharma-pradhānéna bhavitavyam yatātmanā | tathā cha sarva-bhūtéṣhu vartitavyam yathātmani || (तस्माद्धर्मप्रधानेन भवितव्यं यतात्मना। तथा च सर्वभूतेषु वर्तितव्यं यथात्मनि॥ Mahābhārata Shānti-Parva 167:9)
In the Section on Virtue, and Chapter 32 of the Tirukkuṛaḷ (c. 200 BC – c. 500 AD), Tiruvalluvar 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)
- "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 that which angers you when they do it to you." – Isocrates(436–338 BC)
The Pahlavi Texts of Zoroastrianism (c 300 BC-1000 AD) were an early source for the Golden Rule: "That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself." Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5, and "Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others." Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29 
Seneca the Younger (c 4 BC-65 AD), a practitioner of Stoicism (c 300 BC-200 AD) expressed the Golden Rule in his essay regarding the treatment of slaves: "Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you." The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca.
A rule of altruistic reciprocity was first stated positively 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.
Hillel the Elder (c. 110 BCE – 10 CE), used this verse as a most important message of the Torah for his teachings. Once, he was challenged by a gentile who asked to be converted under the condition that the Torah be explained to him while he stood on one foot. Hillel accepted him as a candidate for conversion to Judaism but, drawing on Leviticus 19:18, briefed the man:
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.
Hillel recognized brotherly love as the fundamental principle of Jewish ethics. Rabbi Akiba agreed and suggested that the principle of love must have its foundation in Genesis chapter 1, which teaches that all men are the offspring of Adam who was made in the image of God (Sifra, Ḳedoshim, iv.; Yer. Ned. ix. 41c; Genesis Rabba 24). According to Jewish rabbinic literature, the first man Adam represents the unity of mankind. This is echoed in the modern preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And it is also taught, that Adam is last in order according to the evolutionary character of God's creation:
Why was only a single specimen of man created first? To teach us that he who destroys a single soul destroys a whole world and that he who saves a single soul saves a whole world; furthermore, so no race or class may claim a nobler ancestry, saying, 'Our father was born first'; and, finally, to give testimony to the greatness of the Lord, who caused the wonderful diversity of mankind to emanate from one type. And why was Adam created last of all beings? To teach him humility; for if he be overbearing, let him remember that the little fly preceded him in the order of creation.
The Jewish Publication Society's edition of Leviticus:
- Thou shalt not hate thy brother. in thy heart; thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him. 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.
This Torah verse represents one of several versions of the Golden Rule, which itself appears in various forms, positive and negative. It is the earliest written version of that concept in a positive form.
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.
Commentators summed up foreigners (= Samaritans), proselytes (= 'strangers who resides with you') (Rabbi Akiba, bQuid 75b) or Jews (Rabbi Gamaliel, yKet 3,1; 27a) to the scope of the meaning.
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 it.— 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."
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, who used it to summarize the Torah: "Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets" (Matthew 7:12 NCV, 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 is stated positively numerous times in the Hebrew Pentateuch as well as the Prophets and Writings. Leviticus 19:18 ("Forget about the wrong things people do to you, and do not try to get even. Love your neighbor as you love yourself."; see also Great Commandment) and Leviticus 19:34 ("But treat them just as you treat your own citizens. Love foreigners as you love yourselves, because you were foreigners one time in 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, 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 was already proverbial among Second Temple Jews. 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
Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.
Do to others what you would want them to do to you.
25And 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?"
26What 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.’ " 28"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 neighbor" is anyone in need. This extends to all, including those who are generally considered hostile.
Jesus' teaching 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, emphasizes 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 judgment, both formulations of the golden rule, the negative and positive, are equally applicable.
14For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
The Golden Rule is implicitly expressed in some verses of the Quran, and is explicitly declared in the sayings of Muhammad. A common transliteration is: ِAheb li akheek ma tuhibu li nafsik. This can be translated as "Wish for your brother, what you wish for yourself" or "Love your brother as you love yourself".
From the Quran: 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."— Quran (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"— Quran (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."— Quran (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."— Quran (Surah 2, "The Calf", v. 267)
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."
"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."
Other hadiths containing the golden rule are:
- Anas related that Muhammad said: "None of you is truly a Muslim until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself". (Reported in Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari).
- Whoever wishes to be delivered from the fire and to enter paradise should treat other people as they wish to be treated themselves. (reported by Sahih Muslim).
- Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourself. (Reported by Abu Dawud)
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.
And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.
Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not.
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.
- श्रूयतां धर्मसर्वस्वं श्रुत्वा चाप्यवधार्यताम्।
- आत्मनः प्रतिकूलानि परेषां न समाचरेत्।।
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)
In Mahābhārata, the ancient epic of India, comes a discourse where the wise minister Vidura advices the King Yuddhiśhṭhira thus, "Listening to wise scriptures, austerity, sacrifice, respectful faith, social welfare, forgiveness, purity of intent, compassion, truth and self-control — are the ten wealth of character (self). O king aim for these, may you be steadfast in these qualities. These are the basis of prosperity and rightful living. These are highest attainable things. All worlds are balanced on dharma, dharma encompasses ways to prosperity as well. O King, dharma is the best quality to have, wealth the medium and desire (kāma) the lowest. Hence, (keeping these in mind), by self-control and by making dharma (right conduct) your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself."
"tasmād dharma-pradhānéna bhavitavyam yatātmanā | tathā cha sarva-bhūtéṣhu vartitavyam yathātmani ||" (तस्माद्धर्मप्रधानेन भवितव्यं यतात्मना। तथा च सर्वभूतेषु वर्तितव्यं यथात्मनि॥ Mahābhārata Shānti-Parva 167:9)
Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, c. 623 – c. 543 BC) made this principle one of the cornerstones of his ethics in the 6th century BC. 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.
The Golden Rule is paramount in the Jainist philosophy and can be seen in the doctrines of Ahimsa and Karma. As part of the prohibition of causing any living beings to suffer, Jainism forbids inflicting upon others what is harmful to oneself.
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.
A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.— Sutrakritanga, 1.11.33
In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.— Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara
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
Precious like jewels are the minds of all. To hurt them is not at all good. If thou desirest thy Beloved, then hurt thou not anyone's heart.— Guru Aranj Devji 259, Guru Granth Sahib)
East Asian religions
- "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?"
The same idea is also presented in V.12 and VI.30 of the Analects (c. 500 BC), which can be found in the online Chinese Text Project. It should be noted, however, that the phraseology differs from the Christian version of the Golden Rule. It does not presume to do anything unto others, but merely to avoid doing what would be harmful. It does not preclude doing good deeds and taking moral positions, but there is slim possibility for a Confucian missionary outlook, such as one can justify with the Christian Golden Rule.
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.
If people regarded other people’s states in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own state to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself. If people regarded other people’s cities in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own city to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself. 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. And so if states and cities do not attack one another and families do not wreak havoc upon and steal from one another, would this be a harm to the world or a benefit? Of course one must say it is a benefit to the world.— Mozi, c. 400 BC
Mozi regarded the golden rule as a corollary to the cardinal virtue of impartiality, and encouraged egalitarianism and selflessness in relationships.
New Religious Movements
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."— The Book of Ways, Devotional Wicca
The Way to Happiness expresses the Golden Rule both in its negative/prohibitive form and in its positive form. The negative/prohibitive form is expressed in Precept 19 as:
19. Try not to do things to others that you would not like them to do to you.
The positive form is expressed in Precept 20 as:
20. Try to treat others as you would want them to treat you.
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 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.
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.— Maria MacLachlan, Think Humanism
Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you. [is] (...) the single greatest, simplest, and most important moral axiom humanity has ever invented, one which reappears in the writings of almost every culture and religion throughout history, the one we know as the Golden Rule. Moral directives do not need to be complex or obscure to be worthwhile, and in fact, it is precisely this rule's simplicity which makes it great. It is easy to come up with, easy to understand, and easy to apply, and these three things are the hallmarks of a strong and healthy moral system. The idea behind it is readily graspable: before performing an action which might harm another person, try to imagine yourself in their position, and consider whether you would want to be the recipient of that action. If you would not want to be in such a position, the other person probably would not either, and so you should not do it. It is the basic and fundamental human trait of empathy, the ability to vicariously experience how another is feeling, that makes this possible, and it is the principle of empathy by which we should live our lives.— Adam Lee, Ebon Musings, "A decalogue for the modern world"
In the view of 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".
When we say that man chooses for himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative, at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he ought to be. To choose between this or that is at the same time to affirm the value of that which is chosen; for we are unable ever to choose the worse. What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all.
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.
Richard Swift, referring to ideas from David Graeber, suggests that "without some kind of reciprocity society would no longer be able to exist." His article, Pathways & possibilities, has a subsection called "A reciprocal economy" which refers to Graeber's concept of "baseline communism": Swift writes: "If we treated each other .... strictly on the basis of profit and loss, life would be intolerable. So why shouldn't we make the principle of generous reciprocity, so present in everyday interactions, the basis of economic life rather than the current model of competing egoism?"
If the negative/prohibitive form of the Golden Rule would stand alone, it would simply serve as a proactive motivation against wrong action. But the Golden Rule in general actually serves as a motivation toward proactive action. As Frank Crane put it, "The Golden Rule is of no use to you whatsoever unless you realize that it's your move!"
An alternative meaning of the Golden Rule is described in the song 3-Way (The Golden Rule) by The Lonely Island. The song asserts the golden rule that men may in fact engage in sexual activities with one another, and not be considered homosexuals, so long as there is a third party involved. To put it in colloquial terms: "it's not gay, when it's in a three-way".
Criticism of the Golden Rule as stated in "Do unto others"
Many people have criticized the most common Western affirmation of the golden rule; "do unto others what you want them to do to you", for its inapplicability in various contexts. Playwright 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 and Friedrich Nietzsche, 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.
One satirical version of the Golden Rule makes a political and economic point: "Whoever has the gold, makes the rules." This version hints at the behind-the-scenes influence that the lobbying of deep-pocketed individuals and corporations can have on major decisions affecting large numbers of average citizens as well as the natural environment at large, in the long term. Examples including large land developments, as well as large-scale resource extraction projects. Economic power thus translates into political might.
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. Hence, the Golden Rule of "due unto others" is "dangerous in the wrong hands," according to philosopher Iain King, because "some fanatics have no aversion to death: the Golden Rule might inspire them to kill others in suicide missions."
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 of the Metaphysic of Morals, is often confused with the Golden Rule.
Cannot be a sole guide to action
Philosopher Iain King has argued that "(although) the idea of mirroring your treatment of others with their treatment of you is very widespread indeed… most ancient wisdoms express this negatively – advice on what you should not do, rather than what you should." He argues this creates a bias in favour of inertia which allows bad actions and states of affairs to persist. The positive formulation, meanwhile, can be "incendiary", since it "can lead to cycles of tit-for-tat reciprocity," unless it is accompanied by a corrective mechanism, such as a concept of forgiveness. Therefore, he concludes that there can be no viable formulation of the Golden Rule, unless it is heavily qualified by other maxims.
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 any prejudice against 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.
- Norm of reciprocity, social norm of in-kind responses to the behavior of others
- Reciprocity (cultural anthropology), way of defining people's informal exchange of goods and labour
- Reciprocity (evolution), mechanisms for the evolution of cooperation
- Reciprocity (international relations), principle that favours, benefits, or penalties that are granted by one state to the citizens or legal entities of another, should be returned in kind
- Reciprocity (social and political philosophy), concept of reciprocity as in-kind positive or negative responses for the actions of others; relation to justice; related ideas such as gratitude, mutuality, and the Golden Rule
- Reciprocity (social psychology), in-kind positive or negative responses of individuals towards the actions of others
- Serial reciprocity, where the benefactor of a gift or service will in turn provide benefits to a third party
- Antony Flew, ed. (1979). "golden rule". A Dictionary of Philosophy. London: Pan Books in association with The MacMillan Press. p. 134. ISBN 0-330-48730-2. This dictionary of philosophy contains the following exact quote under the entry for "golden rule": "The maxim 'Treat others how you wish to be treated'. Various expressions of the rule are to be found in tenets of most religions and creeds through the ages, testifying to its universal applicability." (end quote).
- Walter Terence Stace argued that the Golden Rule was much more than simply an ethical code. Instead, he posits, it "express[es] the essence of a universal morality." The rationale for this crucial distinction occupies much of his book The Concept of Morals (1937): – Stace, Walter T. (1937). The Concept of Morals. New York: The MacMillan Company (reprinted 1975 by permission of MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc.); (also reprinted by Peter Smith Publisher Inc, January 1990). p. 136. ISBN 0-8446-2990-1. (above quote found p. 136, ch. 6)
- "The moral primacy of basic respect.".
- W.A. Spooner, "The Golden Rule," in James Hastings, ed. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 6 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1914) pp. 310–12, quoted in Rushworth M. Kidder, How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living, Harper, New York, 2003. ISBN 0-688-17590-2. p. 159. Simon Blackburn also notes the connection between Confucius and the Golden Rule. Simon, Blackburn (2001). Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-19-280442-6.
- Epstein, Greg M. (2010). Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. New York: HarperCollins. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-06-167011-4.
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- Wattles, Jeffrey (1996). The Golden Rule. Oxford University Press.
- Swift, Richard (July 2015). "Pathways & possibilites". New Internationalist 484 (July/August 2015).
- Gensler, Harry J. (2013). Ethics and the Golden Rule. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 978-0415806862.
- Eloquent Peasant PDF "Now this is the command: do to the doer to make him do"
- "The Culture of Ancient Egypt", John Albert Wilson, p. 121, University of Chicago Press, 1956, ISBN 0-226-90152-1 "Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do"
- Eloquent Peasant PDF "The peasant quotes a proverb that embodies the do ut des principle"
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- Kedoshim 19:18, Toras Kohanim, ibid. See also Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4; Bereishis Rabbah 24:7.
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Donaldson Dwight M. 1963. Studies in Muslim Ethics, p. 82. London: S.P.C.K.
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- Sartre, Jean-Paul (2007). Existentialism Is a Humanism. Yale University Press. pp. 291–292. ISBN 0300115466.
- 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. p. 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.
- Damrosch, Leo (2008). Jean Jacques Russeau: Restless Genius. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 978-0-618-44696-4.
- Swift, Richard. "Pathways & possibilites". New Internationalist 484 (July/August 2015).
- "and Robert D. Ramsey, ''School Leadership From A to Z: Practical Lessons from Successful Schools and Businesses'', Corwin Press, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA, 2003. (ISBN 978-0761938330) p. 45". Quakeranne.com. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
- ""3-Way (The Golden Rule)" music video".
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- "The Busybody: The Platinum Rule". Lorenrosson.blogspot.com. 15 February 2006. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
- Kant, Immanuel Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, footnote 13. Cambridge University Press (28 April 1998). ISBN 978-0-521-62695-8
- "Only a Game: The Golden Rule". Onlyagame.typepad.com. 24 May 2007. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
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- Source: Page 76 of How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, Iain King, 2008, Continuum, ISBN 9-781-847-063472.
- Source: Page 76 of How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, Iain King, 2008, Continuum, ISBN 9-781-847-063472.
- Source: Page 110 of How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, Iain King, Continuum, 2008, ISBN 978-1847063472. Accessed 20 March 2014.
- Source: Page 112 of ‘How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time’, Iain King, Continuum, 2008, ISBN 978-1847063472. Accessed 20 March 2014.
- Source: Page 114 of How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, Iain King, Continuum, 2008, ISBN 978-1847063472. Accessed 20 March 2014.
- Stace, Walter T. (1937). The Concept of Morals. New York: The MacMillan Company; (reprinted 1975 by permission of MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc.); (also reprinted by Peter Smith Publisher Inc, January 1990). p. 136 (ch. 6). ISBN 0-8446-2990-1.
- M. G. Singer, The Ideal of a Rational Morality, p270
- Wattles, p6
- Jouni Reinikainen, "The Golden Rule and the Requirement of Universalizability." Journal of Value Inquiry. 39(2): 155–168, 2005.
- Pfaff, Donald W., "The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule", Dana Press, The Dana Foundation, New York, 2007. ISBN 978-1-932594-27-0
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