One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.

The rule is self-referential and entirely independent of "other".

One should not treat others in ways that one thinks/feels those others would not like to be treated.

The above addition ignores "self" and depends solely on the preferences of the other.

Would the Golden Rule be complete if both statements were considered, with the most stringent of the two determining the minimum level of action?

So for example I like being told I'm wrong if someone thinks I'm wrong. Therefore by the classical rule I would tell people they are wrong when I think they are wrong. However this ignores them entirely. If they don't like being told they are wrong (my knowledge of this is not complete like with the first half, which is an issue), then the second half would stop me from telling them.

On the other hand, I don't like being told I'm wrong. The other person does. Therefore I can choose not to tell them as that is my rule for myself.

  • 1
    Answer him. Don't answer him. Answer him. Don't answer him... Please myself? Guess what he wants? Follow the rule as written. Interpret the rule myself... I think I just invented Angst!
    – user16869
    Apr 22, 2016 at 1:56

4 Answers 4


In a sense, that's right, but I think not in the way you propose.

The Golden Rule was proposed within a particular context.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

"Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

The word "So" implies that the Golden Rule is conditioned on those paragraphs above it. From that we see, the point is not that you're doing "unto others" specific things out of inflexibility. Read in its context, the point is that one should be patient and merciful, should help those in need, and give the help that is needed ("bread," "fish") and not spite ("stone", "serpent").

As often happens with common Bible phrases, they are pulled out of their context as they are echoed. One may agree or disagree with the overall point, but it's important to understand the context of the saying before the point can be understood in order to accept or reject it.

  • Surely you don't think this is the primary context in which the golden rule has been presented throughout history. Since Plato mocked the Stoic version of it as out-of-touch and out-of-date in his own day, to claim it as a Christain legacy, especially one that belongs in a given, specifically Christian Biblical context, is blinkered to the point of Colonialism and just plain disrespectful to all other traditions.
    – user9166
    Apr 23, 2016 at 22:06
  • Unfortunately I have to downvote. I'm a Christian myself, but it's well established that the Golden Rule did not originate within Christianity. Apr 26, 2016 at 16:14

1) I see no self-reference. 2) Why use negative forms? One could obey both by simply never acting. 3) Sometimes the way someone wants to be treated is not in their best interest long-term, so with the second form it is no more complete than the original. All told, the Golden Rule is helpful, but it is just not enough.

Kant tries to complete it, in his Categorical Imperative, by including not just your and their perspective, but all potential perspectives and finding the balance between them. This gives it a sort of completeness -- but it renders the decision intractable in many situations.

When it all comes down to it, you need an outside standard of reference: outside you, and those affected, and the future versions of both of you, and any observers empathically involved, and... and... and... Being good cannot be reduced to a complex version of being nice.

  • "Treat others as you would yourself" is self-referential in the most literal sense of the word.
    – Conifold
    Apr 21, 2016 at 21:04
  • A nondual person I know solved that one by looking right at me and saying "There are no other people." This works for me.
    – user16869
    Apr 22, 2016 at 1:58
  • @nocomprende That just turns the Golden Rule into the Categorical Imperative. The latter is a good basic impulse, but often useless, in my experience. If I am both the indigent mother and the unknowing fetus, it doesn't help decide whose future matters more -- I need an external context that is not personal in nature.
    – user9166
    Apr 22, 2016 at 17:37
  • I agree: many decisions are intractable. I don't think there is any way to solve that. I read somewhere that perhaps 25 billion to 35 billion humans have been born (with a fair proportion alive at this moment). Sometimes being one in a billion just means being insignificant. Choices people made in the past are largely irrelevant to us, and ours will probably have no long-term effect at all. How many identical-looking daisies are there? How would 35 billion human faces look to a different species? Our concerns are mainly a concern to ourselves alone.
    – user16869
    Apr 22, 2016 at 19:15
  • @nocomprende In that case, why would one consider this the heart of human purpose, as Kant, his religious compatriots and much of the rest of the world do, instead of attempting to find something beyond this as a basis for ethics. "There are no other people" can also mean that considering other people and other perspectives is the wrong starting point altogether, and that it is just a human habit that does not ultimately mean much.
    – user9166
    Apr 23, 2016 at 13:54

The rule "do unto others as they would have you do unto them" has been given the nickname "The platinum rule" by some, but the golden rule is by far more popular and well known.

If you are not willing to change yourself, the value of the platinum rule becomes quite clear. You cannot assume their preferences are the same as yours. However, there is a price to the platinum rule: it requires you to know something about the other person -- enough to know what they would have done unto them. That knowledge can be quite hard to attain.

"Do unto others as you would have done unto you," the golden rule, sidesteps this issue by only having you know yourself. It has issues when your preferences differ from theirs, but it doesn't require you to know unknowable things.

If you are willing to allow your journey through life to change you, the golden rule becomes far more powerful. Two individuals who uphold the golden rule, and are willing to allow themselves to change over time may enter a feedback loop to find common ground. For example, if both wish to be understood, it would be reasonable for both parties to try to understand the other better.

  • Sounds a bit like Douglas R. Hofstadter's concept of "Renormalized Rationality." I guess Jesus didn't figure that would be as understandable.
    – user16869
    Apr 22, 2016 at 2:00
  • @nocomprende I'm not surprised. Hofstadter's work has had a lot of influence on me, and its hard to discuss feedback between two people without accidentally stumbling onto a strange loop, or coming to the conclusion that society, in fact, cannot exist and must crumble instantaneously.
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 22, 2016 at 2:33
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    Without ego, is the Golden Rule necessary? Apr 23, 2016 at 1:04
  • @IlyaGrushevskiy Without ego, the golden rule is terribly hard to phrase, is it not?
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 24, 2016 at 4:21
  • @IlyaGrushevskiy without ego, a lot of things are unnecessary. (They always were, it is simply possible to see the fact then.)
    – user16869
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:23

I agree with you. I too feel that there is something missing. It needs something like "One should not treat others in ways (that the society one lives in considers "bad" or) that one would not like to be treated."

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