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

The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is an ethical code, or a morality[2], that states (in four forms, see table below) the following:

  1. One should treat others according to how one would like others to treat one's self (positive, passive form)
  2. Treat others as you would like to be treated (positive, active form)
  3. One should not treat others in ways one would not like to be treated (prohibitive, passive form)
  4. Do not treat others in ways you would not like to be treated (prohibitive, active form. Also called the Silver Rule)

The Golden Rule has a long history, and a great number of prominent religious figures and philosophers have restated the above four forms of the Rule in various ways.

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 responsibility to ensure justice for others.[3] A key element of the Golden Rule is that a person attempting to live by this rule treats all people, not just members of his or her in-group, with consideration. The Golden Rule has its roots in a wide range of world cultures, and is a standard which different cultures use to resolve conflicts.[4]

The Golden Rule, as a concept, has a history that long predates the term "Golden Rule" (or "Golden law," as it was called from the 1670s[5]). The concept was present in certain forms in the philosophies of ancient Babylon, Egypt, India, Greece, Judea, and China. Principal philosophers and religious figures have stated it in different ways, but its most common Modern English phrasing first appeared in a Catholic catechism around 1567 (certainly in the reprint of 1583[6]): That English phrasing is a translation of ancient Greek manuscripts; and in the original Greek it is attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the Biblical book of Matthew: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Matthew 7:12, Matthew 22:39, Luke 6:31)

Summary table of four forms

This summary table shows four distilled forms of the Golden Rule. (Each form has two separate lines to display the bilateral, reciprocal nature of the Golden Rule).

Positive Prohibitive (also called the Silver Rule)
Passive One should treat others... how one would like others to treat one's self One should not treat others... in ways one would not like to be treated
Active Treat others... as you would like to be treated Do not treat others... in ways you would not like to be treated


Ancient Babylon

The early incarnations of the Golden Rule, found in the Code of Hammurabi, (1780 BCE)[7], and in the Torah, dealt less with ethical reciprocity as they did concepts of retribution ("an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth").

Ancient Egypt

An early example of the Golden Rule that reflects the Ancient Egyptian concept of Maat appears in the story of The Eloquent Peasant which is dated to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040 – 1650 BCE): "Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do."[8] An example from a Late Period (c. 1080 – 332 BCE) papyrus: "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another."[9]

Ancient Greek philosophy

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

  • "Do not do to your neighbor what you would take ill from him." – Pittacus[10] (c. 640–568 BCE)
  • "Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing." – Thales[11]
  • "What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either. " – Sextus the Pythagorean[12] The oldest extant reference to Sextus is by Origin in the third century of the common era.[13]
  • "Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others." – Isocrates[14]
  • "What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others." – Epictetus[15]
  • "It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing 'neither to harm nor be harmed'[16]), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life." – Epicurus[17]
  • "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)

Religion and philosophy

Global ethic

The "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic"[18] from the Parliament of the World’s Religions[19] (1993) proclaimed the Golden Rule (both in negative and positive form) as the common principle for many religions.[20] The Initial Declaration was signed by 143 leaders from different faith traditions and spiritual communities.[20]

Bahá'í Faith

From the scriptures of the Bahá'í Faith:

Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not.
Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.
And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.
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.


Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.[29]
One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.
Dhammapada 10. Violence


Christianity adopted the golden rule from two edicts, found in Leviticus 19:18 ("Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.", see also Great Commandment) and Leviticus 19:34 ("But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God"). Crucially, Leviticus 19:34 universalizes the edict of Leviticus 19:18 from "one of your people" to all of humankind.

The Old Testament Deuterocanonical books of Tobit and Sirach, accepted as part of the Scriptural canon by Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Non-Chalcedonian Churches, also express a negative form of the golden rule:

"Do to no one what you yourself dislike."
Tobit 4:15

At the time of Hillel, an elder contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, the negative form of the golden rule already must have been proverbial, because of the accordances with Tobit 4:15. When asked to sum up the entire Torah concisely, he answered:

"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."
Talmud, Shabbat 31a
"Recognize that your neighbor feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes."
Sirach 31:15

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

Matthew 7:12

12In everything, do to others what you would want them to do to you. This is what is written in the Law and in the Prophets.

Luke 6:31

31Do to others as you want them to do to you.

Luke 10:25-28

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 neighbour" is anyone in need.[30] 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.[31]


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

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


One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.
Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8)[32]
For those who set their hearts on me

And worship me with unfailing devotion and faith,
The way of love leads sure and swift to me.

Those who seek the transcendental Reality,
Unmanifested, without name or form,
Beyond the reach of feeling and of thought,
With their senses subdued and mind serene
And striving for the good of all beings,
They too will verily come unto me.

[Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter XII.][33]


Many different sources claim the Golden Rule as a humanist principle[1][34]:

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


Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.

Jeffrey Wattles holds that the golden rule appears in the following statements attributed to Muhammad[35]:

“Woe to those . . . who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due”
Qur’an (Surah 83, "The Unjust," vv. 1–4)[36]

The Qur'an commends:

"those who show their affection to such as came to them for refuge and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves"
Qur’an (Surah 59, "Exile," vv. 9)[37]
“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
An-Nawawi's Forty Hadith 13 (p. 56)[38]
"Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer; treat well as a neighbor the one who lives near you, that you may be a Muslim [one who submits to God]."
Sukhanan-i-Muhammad (Teheran, 1938)[39]
“That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.”[39]
"The most righteous of men is the one who is glad that men should have what is pleasing to himself, and who dislikes for them what is for him disagreeable."[39]


In Jainism, the golden rule is firmly embedded in its entire philosophy and can be seen in its clearest form in the doctrines of Ahimsa and Karma

Following quotation from the Acaranga Sutra sums up the philosophy of Jainism:

Nothing which breathes, which exists, which lives, or which has essence or potential of life, should be destroyed or ruled over, or subjugated, or harmed, or denied of its essence or potential.

In support of this Truth, I ask you a question – "Is sorrow or pain desirable to you ?" If you say "yes it is", it would be a lie. If you say, "No, It is not" you will be expressing the truth. Just as sorrow or pain is not desirable to you, so it is to all which breathe, exist, live or have any essence of life. To you and all, it is undesirable, and painful, and repugnant.[40]

Saman Suttam of Jinendra Varni[41] gives further insight into this percepts:-

All the living beings wish to live and not to die; that is why unattached saints prohibit the killing of living beings.
Suman Suttam , verse 148
Just as pain is not agreeable to you, it is so with others. Knowing this principle of equality treat other with respect and compassion.
Suman Suttam , verse 150
Killing a living being is killing one's own self; showing compassion to a living being is showing compassion to oneself. He who desires his own good, should avoid causing any harm to a living being.
Suman Suttam , verse 151


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

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

This Torah verse represents one of several version of the Golden Rule, which itself appears in various forms, positive and negative. It is seemingly the oldest written version of that concept in a positive form.[43] All versions and forms of the proverbial Golden Rule have one aspect in common, they all call for others the equal manner and respect we want for ourselves.

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

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the LORD am your God.

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

The Sage Hillel, an elder contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, formulated a negative form of the golden rule. When asked to sum up the entire Torah concisely, he answered[44]:

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."[45]

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

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

Israel's postal service quoted from the previous Leviticus verse when it commemorated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on a 1958 postage stamp.[46]


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 regarded the golden rule as a corollary to the cardinal virtue of impartiality, and encouraged egalitarianism and selflessness in relationships.


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


The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.
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

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 also criticized the golden 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). "The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever reasonable, as they want to be done by." Karl Popper (The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2) This concept has recently been called "The Platinum Rule"[47] Philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, have objected to the rule on a variety of grounds.[48] 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.[49]

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.

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.[50]

M. G. 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.[51] 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.[52] An article by Jouni Reinikainen develops this suggestion in greater detail.[53]

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.

Cynical versions

"He who has the gold, makes the rules."

Also, the Tit for tat strategy involves initial use of the golden rule, but, reflecting its name, is mostly focused on the vengeance that should be exacted when another appears to violate the golden rule.

Scientific research

There has been research published arguing that some 'sense' of fair play and the Golden Rule may be stated and rooted in terms of neuroscientific and neuroethical principles.[54]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2
  2. Walter Terence Stace argued that the Golden Rule is 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, Reprinted 1975 by permission of MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc., Also reprinted January 1990 by Peter Smith Publisher Inc). The Concept of Morals. New York: The MacMillan Company; and also reprinted by Peter Smith Publisher Inc, January 1990. p. 136. ISBN 0-8446-2990-1. 
  3. Defined another way, it "refers to the balance in an interactive system such that each party has both rights and duties, and the subordinate norm of complementarity states that one's rights are the other's obligation."Bornstein, Marc H. (2002). Handbook of Parenting. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 5. ISBN 978-0-8058-3782-7.  See also: Paden, William E. (2003). Interpreting the Sacred: Ways of Viewing Religion. Beacon Press. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-0-8070-7705-4. 
  4. Stace, Walter T. (1937, Reprinted 1975 by permission of MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc.). The Concept of Morals. New York: The MacMillan Company. pp. chapters on Ethical Relativity (pp 1–68), and Unity of Morals (pp 92–107, specifically p 93, 98, 102). ISBN 0-8446-2990-1. 
  5. Douglas Harper. "Entry for "golden"". Online Etymology Dictionary. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  6. Vaux, Laurence (1583, Reprinted by The Chetham Society in 1885). A Catechisme / or / Christian Doctrine. Manchester, England: The Chetham Society. p. 48 (located in the text just before the title, "OF THE FIVE COMMANDMENTS OF THE CHURCH." Scroll up slightly to see the phrase " unto others, as we would be done to ourselves."). 
  7. Quote from Kenneth Bond: "...Code of Hammurabi (1780 BC). I used a translation by L.W. King with Commentary by Charles F. Horne (1915). My version was a 1996 electronically enhanced version of the 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica." (end quote). Kenneth Bond (1998). "Religious Beliefs as a Basis for Ethical Decision Making in the Workplace". Humboldt State University. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  8. "The Culture of Ancient Egypt", John Albert Wilson, p. 121, University of Chicago Press, 1956, ISBN 0-226-90152-1
  9. "A Late Period Hieratic Wisdom Text: P. Brooklyn 47.218.135", Richard Jasnow, p. 95, University of Chicago Press, 1992, ISBN 978-0-918986-85-6
  10. Pittacus, Fragm. 10.3
  11. Diogenes Laërtius, "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers", I,36
  12. The Sentences of Sextus
  13. The Sentences of Sextus Article
  14. Isocrates, "Nicocles",6
  15. Epictetus, "Encheiridion"
  16. Tim O'Keefe, Epicurus on Freedom, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.134
  17. Epicurus Principal Doctrines tranls. by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)
  18. Towards a Global Ethic
  19. The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Towards a Global Ethic (An Initial Declaration)
  21. Words of Wisdom See: The Golden Rule
  22. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, LXVI:8
  23. Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh, p10
  24. The Golden Rule Bahá'í Faith
  25. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p71
  26. The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh – Part II
  27. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p30
  28. Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 73
  29. Detachment and Compassion in Early Buddhism by Elizabeth J. Harris (
  30. John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on Luke 10
  31. Moore: Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era; Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1927–1930; Vol.2, p.87, Vol.3, p.180.
  32. Mahabharata Book 13
  33. Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter XII.
  35. Jeffrey Wattles, The Golden Rule (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) 4, 191–192, Questia, 24 July 2007
  36. Wattles (191)
    Rost, H.T.D. The Golden Rule: A Universal Ethic, 100. Oxford, 1986
  37. Wattles (192)
    Rost (100)
  38. Wattles (191), Rost (100)
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 [English Title: Conversations of Muhammad]
    Wattles (192)
    Rost (100)
    Donaldson Dwight M. 1963. Studies in Muslim Ethics, p.82. London: S.P.C.K
  40. Jacobi, Hermann (1884). Ācāranga Sūtra, Jain Sutras Part I, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 22..  Sutra 155-6
  41. *Varni, Jinendra; Ed. Prof. Sagarmal Jain, Translated Justice T.K. Tukol and Dr. K.K. Dixit (1993). Samaṇ Suttaṁ. New Delhi: Bhagwan Mahavir memorial Samiti. 
  42. 42.0 42.1 New JPS Hebrew/English Tanakh
  43. Plaut: The Torah — A Modern Commentary; Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York 1981; pp.892.
  44. Gensler, Harry J. (1996). Formal Ethics. Routledge. pp. 105. ISBN 0415130662. 
  45. Kedoshim 19:18, Toras Kohanim, ibid. See also Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4; Bereishis Rabbah 24:7.
  46. Sol Singer Collection of Philatelic Judaica – Emory University
  47. The Busybody: The Platinum Rule
  48. Only a Game: The Golden Rule
  49. How would you feel, if a million Soviet troops stormed your Reich Capital?
  50. Stace, Walter T. (1937, Reprinted 1975 by permission of MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc., Also reprinted January 1990 by Peter Smith Publisher Inc). The Concept of Morals. New York: The MacMillan Company; and also reprinted by Peter Smith Publisher Inc, January 1990. p. 136. ISBN 0-8446-2990-1. 
  51. M.G. Singer, The Ideal of a Rational Morality, p270
  52. Wattles, p6
  53. Jouni Reinikainen, "The Golden Rule and the Requirement of Universalizability." Journal of Value Inquiry. 39(2): 155–168, 2005.
  54. 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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