I think the value and effectiveness of the golden rule as guide to ethical conduct is self-evident, so far as the individual is receiving equivalent treatment in return among peers. Yet, I have observed, that people who do not stray from the golden rule are often taken advantage of as they are perceived as being lame and soft prey for people with predatorial natures i.e. people who are taken advantage of and do not stand up for themselves, as they are either too afraid to, they find the prospect of violent retaliation undignified and demeaning to themselves, or they just couldn't be bothered arguing with fools constantly, etc.

Are there any Philosophers who address, in regard to the golden rule, the ethical treatment of people who cause harm to others, in terms as simple as the golden rule? And who is at fault, the person who does not follow the golden rule, or the person who, by following the golden rule allows themself to become a victim? It seems that an obvious resolution would be, if people don't treat you the way you'd like to be treated, then treat them how they treat you. But I think this would regress into "an eye for an eye" scenario, resulting in the whole world becoming blind, climaxing with, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, which would result in a total failure of the golden rule, which I don't find to be adequate.


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    I believe the same man who preached the golden rule also preached turning the other cheek. Seems logically consistent. Aug 5, 2014 at 2:21
  • i cannot follow the golden rule at all, but it makes me different and i accept it. :) if someone mistreated me, i will forgive them, even if they did so on purpose. i think the golden rule is a bit funny and i wonder why so many people believe it.
    – user12056
    Dec 16, 2014 at 0:42
  • the above statement makes me wondr whether it's appropriate to explain exactly what you meanby "the golden rule" as we're all assuming we are talking about the same thing Jul 26, 2016 at 17:08
  • The truth of the matter is that we all fail epically at following the golden rule because of our sinful nature Jun 22, 2022 at 14:03

7 Answers 7


I don't know that any well-known philosophers have addressed this, but game theorists have. This question seems closely related to the iterated prisoner's dilemma. In some cases, an eye for an eye is the optimal strategy; in others, an eye for an eye with random forgiveness proves optimal, both to the individual and to the system as a whole. It all depends on what strategy your opponents are using.

I suppose that whether this kind of optimality translates into a prescriptive philosophy depends on whether you think morality ultimately derives from game theory. I happen to think it does.


In my mind, the 'Golden Rule' has nothing to do with a third party and only to do with the self. It is a one way street. People are free to behave in any way they choose and you should not impose moral ideals onto them. You don't have to follow the rule and nor do I.

But if you choose to follow the rule, you do so because you choose to, and not because of any social or moral obligation. The same way you would choose to do yoga or cycling, the benefit would be your own and you can't compel others to do the same and treat them differently when they don't. For that would not be following the golden rule, would it; That would be reversing the rule and treating people how they treat you, which will get you into all sorts of trouble.

The rule is simply about giving... treating people the way you would want to be treated means giving them your total respect, giving them all your kindness and understanding and above all love; And doing so regardless of how they treat you. Because that is how you would like to be treated.

And when you truly give, from the heart, it comes with no desire for reward, recognition or reciprocation. You give because you want to, out of love.

You have to try and find strength in the decision you have made, and know that the bronze (I just made that up) rule is always there to back you up... 'You reap what you sow'.


I think everybody here is completely missing the point...

The OP said...

'I think the value and effectiveness of the golden rule as guide to ethical conduct is self-evident, so far as the individual is recieving equivalent treatment in return among peers.

And Kevin said...

'It all depends on what strategy your opponents are using.'

This is the opposite to the golden rule. ie. Treat people how they treat you, or treat people how you think they will treat you, or only treat people kindly if they treat you kindly in return.

This is nonsense and has nothing to do with the golden rule. Listen very carefully to what the golden rule is telling you. Think about it deeply and you will find that the it is the simpest and most beautiful of them all. This is why it is Golden.

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.

I am not a christian, but you should read Jesus' Sermon on the mount. It will enlighten you.

  • It occurred to me that sometimes people might want someone else to pick a fight. Not necessarily all love ? I dunno I only just thought of it lol Jul 26, 2016 at 17:12

I believe that the "golden rule" was invented to protect the the poor, lame, weak, ignorant, stupid, retarded, incapacitated, etc. etc. from the "more" rich, healthy, strong, knowledgeable, intelligent, capable, etc. members of their society/group. This was necessary because all the members, are in fact, not created equal. Therefore, without the golden rule (and the laws), some of the more "capable" members would take advantage of the less capable members.

There are at least two ways we should treat those that don't follow the golden rule: 1)try to teach them the "costs" of not following the rule, and the "benefits" of doing so, 2) take whatever steps are necessary, to "protect" those that the more capable members would harm.

  • Hilarious answer, it's exactly opposite of correct. An ignorant person is one who constantly changes rules in conflicts when they no longer beneficial. Intelligent person is one who have rules which easily show correct solutions, no matter beneficial or not. Intelligent people will resolve conflicts, not wasting time or resources on them because they both know correct solution and can trust each other. Ignorant ones will constantly switch opinions and manipulations. GR "treat people like they treat others" basically protects civilized society from ignorants undermining it.
    – halt9k
    May 14, 2023 at 0:10

I believe the golden rule is both a sanctuary and a prison for it's absolute devote followers. Consider the situation where you have person A, who follows the golden rule, regardless of the reciprocation or conduct of others. Add to this person B, who isn't necessarily interested or devoted to the golden rule, and if the opportunity arises in which going against the golden rule results in greater personal gain than following it, the golden rule isn't followed. In this world, from a loss/gain, fixed pie, objective distribution of goods perspective, person B always comes out on top while person A may only win within the confines of his/her own sentiments. In this world, the golden rule only holds, lets call it "objective value" if you introduce person C. Person C, likes the idea of the golden rule, but person C won't be used as a doormat. Person C also stands up for person A, so when person B, acts inappropriately, C is there to keep B in check.

Historically I believe this is where the idea of God comes into play. God is exempt from the golden rule, so to speak. God is free to judge and punish person B, because God is God. God is check, God is person C.

In a world with no God/and or person C(and I'm not saying I believe in a creator) the golden rule does few things. 1. It gives people something to feel good about. 2. It keeps the weak and poor, weak and poor while benefitting the strong and rich.


Given that systems of law are built around the golden rule and its many ramifications, we can look at practical reason as it is exemplified by law.

Practically speaking, then, people who do not follow the golden rule are punished in a variety of ways: they might be ignored, marginalised, fined or imprisoned depending upon the severity of the offence.


I do not think the value of the Golden Rule is self evident. I think the Golden Rule is a bad idea. The Golden Rule states something like "treat others as you would like to be treated" or "don't treat others in a way that you would dislike being treated."

One problem is this doesn't specify what counts as like treatment. For example, a Nazi could say the Golden Rule authorises the Holocaust as follows: "If I were a Jew I would know that I was hopelessly inferior to Germans and so I would want a German to kill me. Therefore I should kill all of the Jews." Another problem is the one you pointed out, namely that under some readings it would lead to acts like maiming and killing in revenge for maiming and killing.

The best set of ideas I have seen as a replacement for ideas like the Golden rule is the idea that you should act in such a way as to benefit yourself and you should deal with others on a voluntary basis. The other person is responsible for what he gets out of his dealings with you and as long as he can decline a transaction he need not do anything he thinks is bad, unless he has contradictory views about morality. Force, fraud, theft and threats thereof should be prohibited because they make voluntary dealings with other people difficult. People who commit such acts should pay compensation to their victims if possible. If a person performs acts so bad that it would be dangerous to let him move freely then he should be locked up. The people who most commonly advocate this sort of thing are Ayn Rand and some libertarians, although I think many libertarians make very bad mistakes. For a fairly good explanation of this view see Ayn Rand's books and "The Structure of Liberty" by Randy Barnett.

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    I don't really know that 'how you want to be treated' is the same thing as 'how you would expect to be treated by yourself if you were them' because the second is essentially 'how you feel like treating them'. The idea is that you wouldn't want someone to cheat you - so you shouldn't do that to people. It's not all that complicated.
    – Magus
    Jul 23, 2014 at 16:35
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    The problems with morality based on Rand's lines are well known, and even exemplified in real life, for cases where some people have substantially more resources than others in a world where both the total amount of resources and the rate at which you can access them is bounded. Jul 23, 2014 at 21:22
  • Think pointing out that the value of the Golden Rule is not self-evident is a philosophically valid position. The examples of a hypothetical deranged Nazi and Ayn Rand do not provide much support for the position, however. Jul 24, 2014 at 5:20
  • why the downvotes? While I dont agree to alanf, I cant see how this is a bad answer. If I dont give a damn about property, then the golden rule justifies giving a damn about other peoples property. That seems like a bad idea, and while alanf gives a different example, the dialectic is the same.
    – Lukas
    Jul 24, 2014 at 8:27
  • Niel, Rand's philosophy states that people should not be forced to use their resources in ways that they have not contracted for. If person A and person B live in a free society and person A has more money or whatever that's because people prefer contracts under which person A has that money. Even the societies that are closest to being free now have badly flawed institutions and other societies have even worse flaws. Since you haven't given any specific examples it is difficult to tell whether you have a correct criticism of Objectivism. Reference?
    – alanf
    Jul 24, 2014 at 9:36

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