On The Golden Rule

Responding to this site, where it is stated:
By recognizing that the Golden Rule is fundamental to all world religions, the Charter for Compassion can inspire people to think differently about religion.

Except that the Golden Rule isn't fundamental, or shouldn't be. It presumes we all want to be treated in some sort of charitable manner, when in fact any number of people want to be treated poorly, out of some sense of self-loathing, masochism, or the like.

The Golden Rule is the foundation for any number of transparently unethical rationalizations, such as "Anyone else would have done it," or "We would all steal from a blind man, given the opportunity." It justified aspersions against character. "If I were handicapped, I wouldn't want to be helped up the stairs."

What people in fact want is not to be treated the same, but rather, to be treated as different. For one person to respect another's values and traditions, even if he does not care for them or even support them. To support the right of an individual to be treated in society in a way he would not want personally to be treated, because that's what the other person wants. To be tolerant of, indeed, to embrace, diversity.

I am by no means the first to make such criticisms, and no serious initiative on ethics can ignore them. From Wikipedia:
Many people have criticized the golden rule; George Bernard Shaw once said that "The golden rule is that there are no golden rules". Shaw also criticized the golden rule, "Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same." (Maxims for Revolutionists). "The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever possible, as they want to be done by." Karl Popper (The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2) This concept has recently been called "The Platinum Rule"[33] Philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, have objected to the rule on a variety of grounds.[34] 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.
The golden rule is no foundation for ethics, and people should not pretend that it is.

Via Joi Ito.


  1. Wow...you've just elevated yourself above Christ and the Old Testament Prophets. Ever considered starting your own religion?

  2. I don't have a strong view on the Golden Rule. I agree that forcing your values on others isn't really very compassionate. I think that compassion in the true sense of the word involves a great deal of empathy and effort to embrace diversity and understand the other person's specific suffering...

  3. Your making way too much about this. The golden rule is more about being compassionate than what your purposing. The heart behind this is more to the effect of loving each other and reflecting that love in actions. Your attempting to split hairs here and make this more difficult than it was intended. If we treated others with dignity, respect, love, compassion, and empathy, then we are on the journey of reflecting a portion of His love to those around us.

  4. Law and Medicine hold us to "Do No Harm" as evidenced by the Robert Latimer case. One requires the wisdom of Solomon to properly interpret the Golden Rule. Every new parent promises they'll "Do No Harm" to their newborn child but no one manages to raise a child without creating some harm to his spirit

  5. From my blog post of Oct. 07, 2008 (CCK08 Short Paper #1):

    “The best definition I’ve found for culture is by Prof. Jaakko Lehtonen from University of Jyväskylä, Finland (2003): “Culture is a continuous interaction between the ideas in the heads of people and their actual behaviours. Within our culture we do what we do because we have acquired the knowledge that this is the right or normal way to do things. At the same time, behaving in a certain way makes existing rules stronger or gives birth to new cultural rules.” What I think should more be included in both teacher and business training, is the reflection beginning from one’s own closest surroundings and experiences. What is most right and normal for me? How do I behave due to that? Step by step we learn to recognize the reasons behind culturally diverse others’ behaviour. And we learn to act according to what is best for the whole group in which we have impact. This can also be expressed as the difference between pluralism and multiculturalism – culturally diverse groups, in addition to having the right to exist and develop, must as well head for learning to form a common societal goal.”

    This leads into my today's version of defining connectivism: "The ethics of the process of making visible the common societal goal is depending of the willingness to improve one's competence on building social connections. The Golden Rule can be included in this process in both a harmful and a non-harmful way. Connective thinking encourages the latter."


Post a Comment

Your comments will be moderated. Sorry, but it's not a nice world out there.

Popular Posts