Negating the Golden Rule

We’re all familiar with the classic principle “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (or some variation of this). However, many religions and philosophies choose to use the negation of this: “Do not do unto others what you would not like done to yourself.” Now I know these two phrases are logically equivalent. The question is, is one phrasing better than another?
The empasis in the negation of the rule is on restraint, while the classic Golden Rule commands positive actions. While the latter might imply the former, I think the key is in the phrasing. My position is that it is more important to withold negative actions than to perform positive actions. Therefore, the negation of the Golden Rule should be the standard formulation. The reason for my position is that witholding negative actions is a necessary precurser to the giving of the good. So what do you think? Do I have a point or does the form not really matter?

this all assumes the validity of the Golden Rule, which I realize is no given. Any arguments on why both versions might be wrong?

I think that the positive version of the Golden Rule is better because the negative version just sounds negative, if you know what I mean.

Also, isn’t it better for people to do good things to others that make up for the bad things we all do? No one can be perfect, so wouldn’t you rather have a friend that is nice most of the time and not nice sometimes than a friend that is never nice to you but never mean to you either?

I think that “doing unto others” is actually more important than refraining from negative acts.

A little kindness goes a long way in this world. While many people play by the book, and don’t break any laws, they may not be contributing to society in any meaningful way.

A small act of kindness, such as giving a quarter to the man in line ahead of you who has come up short is something that can totally turn that person’s day around, and in turn maybe cause him to do something for another person. Kindness is useful in restoring people’s faith in their fellow man, and actually, in the long run, may prevent negative acts.

I think that Jesus’ version (the “positive” version) is more challenging. It commands you to love your neighbor, rather than to not hate them.

The positive version also gives you something to do. It’s much easier to shape / reshape habits around an action than around a lack of an action. So to a certain extent, “doing unto others” leaves you less time to things you wouldn’t want to have done to yourself.

If I choose to not be rude to you, that’s equivalent to choosing to be civil (for lack of a better word) if not polite. With that in mind, to do unto others a positive, e.g. be civil, is equivalent to choosing to not do unto others a negative, e.g. be rude. Based on that (thin) argument, I’d have to say that the two are equivalent.

Personally, when it comes to the golden rule, I have to say that dog won’t hunt. What you wish to have done unto you may really piss me off. Quite frankly Machiavelli hit on a much better principle: “…for no one admits [in a free society] that he incurs an obligation to another merely because that other has done him no wrong.”
-Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Discourse 16.

Applying that idea as a rule would go much farther toward making the world a better place, IMO.

So far, “Treat others as they would like to be treated” seems to be the most viable version as it can be person-specific.

Sorry if the following is phrased in a rather boring manner.

The negative and positive versions of the golden rule are both quite well represented in moral philosophy and law by now. The general position is that law and morality both contain the negative version (as the ‘no-harm principle’), but that the positive version (so-called Samaritan duties, see the New Testament on the parable of the Samaritan) is only a moral duty, not a legal one, at least in Anglo-Saxon law.

In the ethical and legal literature therefore it is generally felt that the positive version is more taxing (but also morally better) than the negative one. Modern literature, however, tends to concentrate on the purely negative duties and designates the positive duties as supererogatory: commendable but not compulsory. I agree with those of you who find the positive version prefereable, but do you mean that it is really compulsory to act where you can, or do you find such acts only commendable (saintly)?

With respect to the two versions being equivalent: that is only true with respect to acts that have to be done in connection with prior acts. If you light a fire on your land, you are obliged to watch it to make sure it doesn’t spread. But you are not in general obliged to watch out for fires to spread. If you would in passing see a fire starting, you would according to US law not be obliged to extinguish it or even warn the fire brigade.

I don’t know about you, but I do not have the ability to read the minds of others. I have no idea exactly how they would like to be treated. I only know how I would like to be treated. Therefore, I should treat others as I would like to be treated, and hope they do the same.

If you don’t know, by asking, how we’d like to be treated, leave us alone - completely.

In return, learn to deal with the power of total indifference.

I thought it was: Do unto others before they do unto you.

I don’t see a whole heap of difference; I’d like others to consciously refrain from punching my teeth out when I say something stupid, so I guess I’ll consciously refrain from punching someone else’s teeth out when they say something stupid to me.

So the 'DO’ing is holding back, but it’s the same thing.

No offense, but you’re all crazy. The negative form of the Golden Rule is the only way to go. I look at it like this- there are several components that have to be considered in the way I treat people:

1)I have to know how they want to be treated.
2)I have to refrain from treating them in a way that contradicts #1
3)I have to actively treat them in a way that promotes #1

The order is the most important thing. As **Lord Ashtar ** pointed out, most people aren’t even able to achieve #1. The closest we can get is to either ask the person or generalize from our own preferences. Once we substitute that element for #1, there are the next two options to
deal with. As TTT stated, #2 is the step that we are usually considered legally responsible for. It is our only real societal obligation. Furthermore, you can’t go on to #3 if you fail to accomplish #2. That would be like helping a guy up after you kick him in the balls. It’s nice that you’re helping him, but it’s even better if you refrain from hurting him in the first place. My point is that #2 is the crucial step, so the form of the Golden Rule that emphasizes this should be the standard.
As for the argument that the positive form is better because it encourages kindness, love, peace, etc. - I say that’s a bunch of hippie talk. We can’t require people to acheive that level of morality. I see no problem encouraging people to shoot for #3, but I don’t see it happening realistically. Furthermore, that kind of thinking produces bad movies like Pay it Forward. I say we’re better off with “Don’t treat others in a way you wouldn’t like to be treated.”

** “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” **
What about sadomasochists?
** “Do not do unto others what you would not like done to yourself.”**

So a boss should not delegate jobs that the boss would not like delegated to her/him?

None taken; although, some of us are crazy for entirely different reasons… :slight_smile:

Well, call me crazy, but I don’t mind being called crazy. So according to the negation of the Golden Rule, I should be able to dish out all the crazy I want. Hmm… maybe this doesn’t work quite as well as I thought.

FabioClone, I actually do not see much of a disagreement here, but maybe I interpreted your OP differently. When I think of the positive version of the golden rule I do not believe that everyone should have exactly the same things pushed down their throats (metaphorically speaking, you dirty minds :slight_smile: ) that I personally quite happily partake of (drinking wine, reading and posting at SDMB [sup]*[/sup]). Such a version would plainly be ridicilous. The thing is you should look at it more generally: if I were in the same position of the next guy, would I want ‘me’ to help me-nextguy? That at least is how I interpret it (and I think most of the others as well).

You should therefore take the positive version in a rather more general way. In that sense the positive and negative version do not correspond closely. Still the positive version is the original one (they do not call it a Christian ethic for nothing).

  • Insert obvious comment here.

Please, don’t kill me with kindness. I hate the golden rule. When all people have the same standards of compassion, caring, pleasure, fun, etc, then maybe it will be applicable. Until then, stay away from me if you follow it! ::shudder::

Yes indeed! Who, besides another masochist, would want a masochist to treat them as he or she would want to be treated?

Let me try to make the case for preferring the negative to positive version of the golden rule.

  1. Omissions and actions are not on par. If we consistently find omissions to be equally blameworthy as actions, then we are being insensitive to ideas of individual responsibility and authorship. For example, remember the murder of Kitty Genovese? The man who actually stabbed her is the person who harmed her. The people who figuratively stood by and did nothing did not hurt her (though they failed to help her). Without an act/omission distinction, we couldn’t recognize this, and we’d have to equate the guy who did the stabbing with the people who didn’t call the police.

  2. A positive version of the golden rule will have undesirable effects. For example:

2A) The positive version of the golden rule requires people to assist others in need. But requiring such assistance may lead to an overreaction that could harm the victim. I’m picturing somebody who looks like he’s drowning in the swimming pool and then everybody dives in to rescue him and drowns him.

2B) The positive version of the golden rule would have undesirable activity level effects. For example, people who don’t want to be put in the situation where they have to help others may desist from activities that may put them in that situation. So, for example, going to the beach will become a costlier diversion, and less people will do it. Since less people are going to the beach, there will be less happiness.

  1. A positive version of the golden rule has a slippery slope problem. Potentially an infinite number of people will have a duty to help someone else. For example, all of you reading this message board instead of packaging up food to send to famine-stricken regions of the world are morally blameworthy.

  2. A positive version of the golden rule entails a serious proof problem. Can a non-act ever be the “cause” of something? For example, suppose that one of Kitty Genovese’s neighbors actually had called the cops. But how could we know that the police would have arrived in time? Since we cannot, we cannot say that the person who didn’t call the police isn’t morally blameworthy – because his failure to call the police didn’t necessarily “cause” Kitty Genovese’s harm.