The Golden Rule




Treat others the way you would wish to be treated.

Do not do to others that which you would not wish done to you.

I understand why you did that.  In your position, I could have done the same thing.


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.  

Acaranga Sutra




Treat others the way you would wish to be treated

How would you wish to be treated?  As a person.  

A person wants to be treated like a person:




Self-other equivalence

In using the Golden Rule, we somehow put our own self, or a loved one, or just someone we value, in the place of somebody else – automatically.  

We can identify four kinds of self-other equivalence used in the Golden Rule, which we can call the equivalences of: 1) the body; 2) the heart; 3) the mind; 4) the soul, or: moral standing, moral equivalence, equivalence based on a sense of right and wrong.  

We can place either our own self, a loved one, or some other valued person, into this equivalence with someone we may not even previously know.

The recognition of self-other equivalence must depend on approving of the stranger, since if we do not approve of someone, we see them as less of a person.  Approval generally means either approving of someone’s behaviour, or seeing them as part of one’s in-group (which can include the whole human race, and other species).  

If we recognise the equivalence of another person then we feel empathy towards them: we wish to understand them (even if we are not good at understanding other people), and we wish to help them (even if we are not in a position to help them).  

The equivalences are automatic and involuntary, because they are forms of empathy, which is a neurological process.  In some undefined sense, two people (you, a loved one, a valued person) and another (potentially a complete stranger) are merged into one.  

The four equivalences:  

1) body – recognising the equivalence of the other’s body with one’s own kind.  An example is seeing an injury on somebody we don’t know.  According to one hypothesis, one’s sense of body is expanded to include someone else’s body.  

2) heart – emotions of equivalence, emotions of empathic concern, and wanting to understand how the other feels, in order to help.  One’s heart is expanded to include someone else’s heart (needs), in the sense of actual empathic concern and neurological motivation to act.  

3) mind – intellectually recognising the equivalence of the “strange” other with self, and attempting intellectual understanding of other.  Treatment of the other is given according to the way we cognitively know that we would treat our own kind.  Metaphorically, one’s own mind is expanded to merge with another’s existence, [hypothetically] leading to the sense of one person.  

4) a soul: moral standing – they “ought” to be treated the same as us – equivalence based on approval, which in turn is based on whether someone is in our in-group or we approve of their behaviour.  Each fellow of the community, or worthy stranger, is afforded special standing and privileges compared with the outside world.  

In the universal version of the Golden Rule, no. 4 means “any human being”.  




Interchangeability of persons

The Golden Rule is a guide to behaviour that human beings readily follow, feel is ethical, and, it is believed, feel instinctively.  

Instinctively, we humans feel a sense of interchangeability with other humans.  This is because we are a cooperative species.  Cooperation involves roles, or jobs to do within a collaborative task.  Each person engaged in the collective task knows that in theory, each person could do each of the roles.  

What is more, each person: 1) knows they are being evaluated and monitored, and that they need to do a good job; 2) evaluates and monitors others, to see that they are doing a good job; leading to another sense of interchangeability.  

In addition, each member of the team also needs to monitor each other to see if they need help – stepping into each others’ shoes for this purpose.  




Universal human rights and Kant’s Categorical Imperative

If “each person” is equivalent to “each person”, and each person is treated as a person, then we have individual rights universalised as universal human rights.  



Categorical Imperatives:  These command unconditionally.  E.g. “Don’t cheat on your taxes.”  Even if you want to cheat and doing so would serve your interests, you may not cheat.

What is the connection between morality and categorical imperatives?  Morality must be based on the categorical imperative because morality is such that you are commanded by it, and is such that you cannot opt out of it or claim that it does not apply to you.  


The last sentence is referring to ethics: the “best” morality that we "should" follow.  



All of the ways in which a person wishes to be treated are ethical ways (with the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them).  





Often we combine the Golden Rule with the norm of reciprocity.  People say “my parents were helped as refugees from the Nazis, and so I would like to help present-day Syrian refugees in return”.  


President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, whose father died under politically motivated torture, showed the way when she said recently, “Because I was the victim of hatred, I have dedicated my life to reverse that hatred and turn it into understanding, tolerance and – why not say itlove.”  

Donald W Pfaff, PhD – “The Neuroscience of Fair Play”


So, cheating. I don’t like it. I will not accept it from my partner. It’s a deal breaker. If I don’t like it and won’t accept that from my partner, I cannot logically allow it for myself. That’s part of my code. Some people call that a moral, for me it’s a logical choice.

Athena Walker


Reciprocity and “karma”


Treat others as you would wish to be treated.  

The Golden Rule (paraphrase)


As you sow, so shall ye reap.  

the Bible – Galatians VI (paraphrase)




Written origins

In the West, the Golden Rule is first seen written in the Biblical Old Testament, meant to apply to all those within one’s own group.  

In the New Testament, Jesus expanded its scope to include all of humanity, in his story of the Good Samaritan.  

Good Samaritan stories – BBC  

Parable of the Good Samaritan (Wikipedia)  


In China, Confucius (551-479 BCE) had also made the Golden Rule the centrepiece of his moral philosophy.  


In the Analects we find the passage: “When Chung Kung asked the meaning of jen, the master said, ‘... Do not do to others that which you do not wish yourself ....’” (XII, 2.)  Again, Confucius is reported in the Analects as saying: “The man of jen is one who, desiring to sustain himself, sustains others, and desiring to develop himself, develops others.  To be able from one’s own self to draw a parallel for the treatment of others; that may be called the way to practise jen.” (VI, 28.)

Thus the practice of jen consists in consideration for others.  “Desiring to sustain oneself, one sustains others; desiring to develop oneself, one develops others.”  In other words, “Do to others what you wish yourself.”  This is the positive aspect of the practise, which was called by Confucius chung or “conscientiousness to others.”  And the negative aspect, which was called by Confucius shu or “altruism”, is “Do not do to others what you do not wish yourself.”  The practice as a whole is called the principle of chung and shu, which is “the to practice jen.”  

“Chung and Shu”  (A Short History of Chinese Philosophy – Fung Yu-lan)


Buddha in the Metta Sutta said,


May I be well, may I be happy, may I be peaceful.  

May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful.