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The ethic of reciprocity is a general moral principle found in virtually all religions and culture, often as a fundamental rule, a fact which suggests that it may be related to innate aspects of human nature (see altruism).

In most formulations it takes a passive form, as expressed by the Jewish sage Hillel: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man." In Western culture, however, the most famous formulation is active, as expressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount -- "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" (Gospel of Matthew 7:12 of the Christian Bible). This traditional guiding rule was so highly valued that it has for centuries been known in English as the "Golden Rule".

Principle[]

The ethic of reciprocity, or Golden Rule of ethics can be best understood in term of what it is not.

Firstly, the ethic of reciprocity should not be confused with tit for tat, revenge, an eye for an eye, retributive justice or the law of retaliation. A key element of the ethic of reciprocity is that a person attempting to live by this rule treats all people, not just members of his or her in-group, with consideration.

Secondly, the ethics of reciprocity should not be confused with another major ethical principle, often known as Wiccan Rede, harm principle, or liberty principle (non-aggression principle) which is an ethical prohibition against aggression. This rule is also an ethical rule of "licence" or "right", that is people can do anything they like as long as it does not harm others. This rule does not compel one to help the other in need. On the other hand, "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)

Lastly, the ethic of reciprocity or Golden Rule of ethics, should not be confused with a "rule" in the semantic or logical sense. A logical loophole in the positive form of Golden "rule" is that it would require a masochist to harm others, even without their consent, if that is what the masochist would wish for themselves. This loophole can be addressed by invoking a supplementary rule, which is sometimes called the silver rule. This states "treat others in the way that they wish to be treated". However, the silver rule may create another logical loophole. In a situation where an individual's background or belief may offend the sentiment of the majority (such as homosexuality or blasphemy), the silver rule may imply ethical majoritarianism if the Golden rule is enforced as if it were a law. An absurd example may be Adolf Hitler's reference to Otto Weininger, which was something in the effect of "There was only one decent Jew, and he killed himself." Weininger was a Christian convert with Jewish background who was well known for his view about supposed superiority of Christianity and Christian character over Judaism and Jewishness.

Under ethic of reciprocity, a person of atheist persuation may have a (legal) right to insult religion under the right of freedom of expression but, as a personal choice, may refrain to do so in public out of respect to the sensitivity of the other. Conversely, a person of religious persuation may refrain from taking action against such public display out of respect to the sensitivity of other about the right of freedom of speech. Conversely, the lack of mutual respect might mean that each side might deliberately violate the golden rule as a provocation (to assert one's right) or as a intimidation (to prevent other from making offence).

It is clear that most religious understandings of the principle imply its use as a virtue toward greater love and mutual respect for one's neighbour rather than as a deontological or consequentialist rule. Most of us know that different people have different faith or ideological belief, different preferences concerning sex or other matters, and may belong to different cultural heritage. Therefore, the golden rule depends on everyone's ability to understand and give respect to such difference. George Bernard Shaw once said that "The golden rule is that there are no golden rules".

This understanding is crucial because it shows how to apply the golden rule. In 1963, John F. Kennedy ordered Alabama National Guardsmen to help admit two clearly qualified "Negro" students to the University of Alabama. In his speech that evening JFK appealed to every American to "stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents" throughout America." If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, .... then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place?" .... "The heart of the question is .... whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated."

It could be argued that the ethics of reciprocity may replace all other moral principles or at least that it is superior to it. This guiding rule may or may not explictly tell one which actions or treatments are right or wrong. But the golden rule can provide one with moral coherence -- it is a consistency principle. One's actions are to be consistent with mutual love and respect to other fellow humans. Arising as it does in nearly all written-language cultures on the Earth, the ethic of reciprocity is a tool that differing cultures can readily use in handling conflicts. Given the modern global trend of political, social, and economic integreation (see globalisation), the golden rule of ethic may be becoming even more relevant and important than ever.

Reciprocal altruism and Tit for tat[]

In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a form of altruism in which one organism provides a benefit to another in the expectation of future reciprocation. This is equivalent to the Tit for tat strategy in game theory for the iterated prisoner's dilemma. Four main conditions of the strategy are

1. Unless provoked, the agent will always cooperate
2. If provoked, the agent will retaliate
3. The agent is quick to forgive
4. The agent must have a 2/3 chance of competing against the opponent more than once.

For several decades Tit-for-Tat was the most effective strategy for playing the game, winning in annual automated tournaments against (generally far more complex) strategies created by teams of computer scientists, economists, and psychologists. Moreover, Tit-for-Tat still is the most effective strategy if you compare the average performance of each competing team. Game theorists informally believed the strategy to be optimal (although no proof was presented).

This imply that ethics of reciprocity may be somewhat compatible with both recipocal altruism and cooperative egoism providing philosophical middle ground between ethical altruism and ethical egoism. However, it should be noted that in the game of iterated prisoner's dilemma, each players are set as equal. If one player is dominant in the game from the outset, it may be advantageous for such player to abandaon the coporation and betray other players, resulting in suboptimal outcome from collective point of view.

The ethics of reciprocity, on the other hand, presupose from the outset that everyone is equal no matter what. However, many actual articulation of ethics of reciprocity in history provide an exemption in the context of the violation of co-operation from the other party. This indicate that the golden rule may have had significant utilitarian justification as well as deontological justriciation.

Right and Duty[]

Deontological ethics (from the Greek Deon meaning obligation) or Deontology is an ethical theory holding that decisions should be made solely or primarily by considering one's duties and the rights of others. Deontology posits the existence of a priori moral obligations, further suggesting that people ought to live by a set of permanently defined principles that do not change merely as a result of a change in circumstances.

Secondly, the ethics of reciprocity should not be confused with another major ethical principle, often know as Wiccan Rede, harm principle, or liberty principle (non-aggression principle) which is an ethical prohibition against aggression. This rule is also an ethical rule of "licence" or "right", that is people can do anything they like as long as it does not harm others. This rule does not compel one to help the other in need. On the other hand, "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)

Lastly, the ethic of reciprocity or Golden Rule of ethics, should not be confused with a "rule" in the semantic or logical sense. A logical loophole in the positive form of Golden "rule" is that it would require a masochist to harm others, even without their consent, if that is what the masochist would wish for themselves. This loophole can be addressed by invoking a supplementary rule, which is sometimes called the silver rule. This states "treat others in the way that they wish to be treated". However, the silver rule may create another logical loophole. In a situation where an individual's background or belief may offend the sentiment of the majority (such as homosexuality or blasphemy), the silver rule may imply ethical majoritarianism if the Golden rule is enforced as if it were a law. An absurd example may be Adolf Hitler's reference to Otto Weininger, which was something in the effect of "There was only one decent Jew, and he killed himself." Weininger was a Christian convert with Jewish background who was well known for his view about supposed superiority of Christianity and Christian character over Judaism and Jewishness.

Religion[]

Buddhism[]

Ethics of reciprocity is fundamental to Buddhism. This is partly due to the fact that Buddhism, unlike theistic religions, does not rely on divine revelation. Therefore, in Buddhism, all aspects of teaching are regarded as wisdom rather than supernaturally derived and are to be undertaken voluntarily rather than as "commandments." For example, the first of the Five Precepts (Panca-sila) of Buddhism is to abstain from destruction of life. The justification of the precept is given in Chapter 10 of the Dhammapada, which states:

"Everyone fears punishment; everyone fears death, just as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill. Everyone fears punishment; everyone loves life, as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill."

According to the second of Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, egoism (desire, craving or attachment) are rooted in ignorance and is considered as the cause of all suffering. Consequently, kindness, compassion and equanimity is regarded as the untainted aspect of human nature.

Christianity[]

Hinduism[]

Islam[]

Judaism[]

History[]

  • ~1970-1640 BCE "Do for one who may do for you, / That you may cause him thus to do." - The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant 109-110, Ancient Egypt, tr. R.B. Parkinson.
  • ~1280 BCE "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD." - Tanakh, new JPS translation, Leviticus 19:18, Judaism.
  • ~700 BCE "That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self." - Dadistan-i-Dinik 94:5, Zoroastrianism.
  • ? BCE "Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others." - Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29, Zoroastrianism.
  • ~500 BCE "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." - Udana-Varga 5:18, Buddhism.
  • ~500 BCE "The Sage...makes the self of the people his self." Tao Te Ching Ch 49, tr. Ch'u Ta-Kao, Unwin Paperbacks, 1976. Daoism
  • ~500 BCE "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." Analects of Confucius 15:24, Confucianism, tr. James Legge.[1]
  • ~500 BCE "Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others. To be able to judge of others by what is near in ourselves; this may be called the art of virtue." Analects of Confucius 6:30, Confucianism, tr. James Legge. [2]
  • ~500 BCE "one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life [is] reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire." - Doctrine of the Mean 13.3, Confucianism.
  • ~500 BCE "Therefore, neither does he cause violence to others nor does he make others do so." - Acarangasutra 5.101-2, Jainism.
  • ~200 BCE "What you hate, do not do to anyone." - Deuterocanonical Bible, NRSV, Tobit 4:15, Roman Catholic Church and Judaism.
  • ~150 BCE "This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you." - Mahabharata 5:1517, Brahmanism and Hinduism.
  • ~100 CE "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." - Hillel the Elder; Talmud, Shabbat 31a, Judaism.
  • ~100 CE "In everything, do unto others as you would like them to do unto you; that is the meaning of the law and the prophets." - Sermon on the Mount, NRSV, Gospel of Matthew 7:12, Christianity
  • ~100 CE "What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others." - Epictetus.
  • ~7th century "Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourself." - Hadith, Islam.
  • ? CE "And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself." - Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 30, Bahá'í Faith.
  • 1785 CE: Kant says: "Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature."
  • ~1870 CE "He should not wish for others what he does not wish for himself." - Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf Bahá'í Faith.
  • 1999 CE "don't do things you wouldn't want to have done to you." - British Humanist society, Humanism.

Footnotes[]

  • 1  1b  1c  JFK's 11 June1963 "Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights," transcript from the JFK library. Partly described (and multiply quoted) in the text above. As described in graphic 1963 events, President Kennedy sent his civil rights bill to Congress on 19 June1963 leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 via the Congressional give-and-take described there.
  • 2a  2b  Harry Gensler's essay,The Golden Rule, published in the Blackwell Dictionary of Business Ethics (Routledge 1997 ISBN 1557869421). For more background, and for more information about the golden rule, plus links and lists of books about it, see his website The Golden Rule. His links include his teaching website, Web Exercises.

See also[]

External links[]

Practical applications of the golden rule to our real world problems[]

  1. Application to racism in the United States in 1963, 1964, partly described in the text and the above (footnote)[1c].
  2. Application to terrorism.
  3. UNESCO report on global ethics.
  4. A sample of applications to business. The golden rule is also in business books, e.g., the Blackwell book in the above (footnote)[2b].

The general application of the golden rule[]

  1. Bill McGinnis's Committee for the Golden Rule.
  2. How to conduct a workshop on the golden rule.
  3. Application to moral education.

Other external links[]

de:Goldene Regel eo:Ora Regulo id:Etika timbal balik nl:Gulden regel (leefregel) no:Den gyldne regel ro:Regula de aur sv:Den gyllene regeln

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