The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one wants to be treated. Various expressions of this rule can be found in the tenets of most religions and creeds through the ages. It can be considered an ethic of reciprocity in some religions, although different religions treat it differently.
The maxim may appear as a positive or negative injunction governing conduct:
The idea dates at least to the early Confucian times (551–479 BCE), according to Rushworth Kidder, who identifies the concept appearing prominently in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and "the rest of the world's major religions". As part of the 1993 "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic", 143 leaders of the world's major faiths endorsed the Golden Rule. According to Greg M. Epstein, it is "a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely", but belief in God is not necessary to endorse it. Simon Blackburn also states that the Golden Rule can be "found in some form in almost every ethical tradition".
The term "Golden Rule", or "Golden law", began to be used widely in the early 17th century in Britain by Anglican theologians and preachers; the earliest known usage is that of Anglicans Charles Gibbon and Thomas Jackson in 1604.
Possibly the earliest affirmation of the maxim of reciprocity, reflecting the ancient Egyptian goddess Ma'at, 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 make him do." This proverb embodies the do ut des principle. A Late Period (c. 664–323 BCE) papyrus contains an early negative affirmation of the Golden Rule: "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another."
In Mahābhārata, the ancient epic of India, there is a discourse in which sage Brihaspati tells the king Yudhishthira the following about dharma, a philosophical understanding of values and actions that lend good order to life:
One should never do something to others that one would regard as an injury to one's own self. In brief, this is dharma. Anything else is succumbing to desire.— Mahābhārata 13.114.8 (Critical edition)
The Mahābhārata is usually dated to the period between 400 BCE and 400 CE.
In Chapter 32 in the Book of Virtue of the Tirukkuṛaḷ (c. 1st century BCE to 5th century CE), Valluvar says:
Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself.— Kural 316
Why does one hurt others knowing what it is to be hurt?— Kural 318
Furthermore, in verse 312, Valluvar says that it is the determination or code of the spotless (virtuous) not to do evil, even in return, to those who have cherished enmity and done them evil. According to him, the proper punishment to those who have done evil 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 (verse 314).
The Golden Rule in its prohibitive (negative) form was a common principle in ancient Greek philosophy. Examples of the general concept include:
The Pahlavi Texts of Zoroastrianism (c. 300 BCE–1000 CE) 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 BCE–65 CE), a practitioner of Stoicism (c. 300 BCE–200 CE) expressed a hierarchical variation of the Golden Rule in his Letter 47, an essay regarding the treatment of slaves: "Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you."
According to Simon Blackburn, the Golden Rule "can be found in some form in almost every ethical tradition". A multi-faith poster showing the Golden Rule in sacred writings from 13 faith traditions (designed by Paul McKenna of Scarboro Missions, 2000) has been on permanent display at the Headquarters of the United Nations since 4 January 2002. Creating the poster "took five years of research that included consultations with experts in each of the 13 faith groups." (See also the section on Global Ethic.)
See also: Abrahamic religions
A rule of reciprocal altruism was 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.— Leviticus 19:18
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 Akiva agreed, while Simeon ben Azzai 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. 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 states:
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 era, 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
Commentators interpret that this applies to foreigners (= Samaritans), proselytes (= 'strangers who reside with you') and Jews.
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.
The "Golden Rule" was proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth during his Sermon on the Mount and described by him as the second great commandment. The common English phrasing is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". A similar form of the phrase appeared in a Catholic catechism around 1567 (certainly in the reprint of 1583). Various applications of the Golden Rule are stated positively numerous times in the Old Testament: "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Or, in 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
Two passages in the New Testament quote Jesus of Nazareth espousing the positive form of the Golden rule:
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.
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.— Luke 6:31
A similar passage, a parallel to the Great Commandment, is Luke 10:25.
Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?"
He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself."
He said to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this, 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, which John Wesley interprets as meaning that "your neighbor" is anyone in need.
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.
In one passage of the New Testament, Paul the Apostle refers to the golden rule:
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.— Galatians 5:14
St. Paul also comments on the golden rule in the book of Romans:
"The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,’ 'You shall not murder,’ 'You shall not steal,’ 'You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
See also: Islamic ethics
The Arabian peninsula was known to not practice the golden rule prior to the advent of Islam. According to Th. Emil Homerin: "Pre-Islamic Arabs regarded the survival of the tribe, as most essential and to be ensured by the ancient rite of blood vengeance." Homerin goes on to say:
Similar examples of the golden rule are found in the hadith of the prophet Muhammad. The hadith recount what the prophet is believed to have said and done, and traditionally Muslims regard the hadith as second to only the Qur'an as a guide to correct belief and action.
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.
See also: Baháʼí teachings
The writings of the Baháʼí Faith encourage everyone to treat others as they would treat themselves and even prefer others over 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.
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.
See also: Indian religions
See also: Hinduism
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.
By making dharma your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself
श्रूयतां धर्मसर्वस्वं श्रुत्वा चाप्यवधार्यताम्।
आत्मनः प्रतिकूलानि परेषां न समाचरेत्।।
If the entire Dharma can be said in a few words, then it is—that which is unfavorable to us, do not do that to others.
Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, c. 623–543 BCE) made this principle one of the cornerstones of his ethics in the 6th 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.
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 lines 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
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 Arjan Dev Ji 259, Guru Granth Sahib
See also: East Asian religions
See also: Confucianism
The same idea is also presented in V.12 and VI.30 of the Analects (c. 500 BCE), which can be found in the online Chinese Text Project. 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.
See also: Taoism
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 Te Ching, Chapter 49
Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss.
See also: Mohism
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 regarded the golden rule as a corollary to the cardinal virtue of impartiality, and encouraged egalitarianism and selflessness in relationships.
See also: Iranian religions
Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.— Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29
See also: Wicca
Hear 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
See also: Yoruba religion
One who is going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.— Yoruba Proverb
See also: Odinani
Egbe bere, ugo bere. (Let the eagle perch, let the hawk perch.)— Igbo Proverb
Nke si ibe ya ebene gosi ya ebe o ga-ebe. (Whoever says the other shall not perch, may they show the other where to perch.)— Igbo Proverb
Main article: Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration
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 Baháʼí 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.
See also: Humanism
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". Various sources identify 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.— 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"
See also: Existentialism
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.
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.
The Golden Rule can also be explained from the perspectives of psychology, philosophy, sociology, human evolution, 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 evolution, "reciprocal altruism" is seen as a distinctive advance in the capacity of human groups to survive and reproduce, as their exceptional brains demanded exceptionally long childhoods and ongoing provision and protection even beyond that of the immediate family. 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."
Study of other primates provides evidence that the Golden Rule exists in other non-human species.
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 religion that officially rejects the Golden Rule is the Neo-Nazi religion of the "Creativity Movement" founded by Ben Klassen. Followers of the religion believe that the Golden Rule doesn't make sense and is a "completely unworkable principle.".
George Bernard Shaw wrote, "Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same." This 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 "do 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."
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.
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 neighbour'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. This principle of "doing unto others, wherever possible, as they would be done by..." has sometimes been termed the platinum rule.
Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies (1863) includes a character named Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By (and another, Mrs Be-Done-By-As-You-Did).
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