Confucianism and the Golden Rule


‘The so-called Golden Rule, “do as you would be done by”, appears in Confucianism as a negative: “what you do not desire for yourself, do not do to others.” The difference is subtle but crucial: Confucius does not prescribe what to do, only what not to do, emphasizing restraint rather than action. This implies modesty and humility – values traditionally held in high regard in Chinese society, and which for Confucius express our true nature. Fostering these values is a form of loyalty to oneself, and another kind of sincerity.’

– Atkinson. S., Landau. C., Szudek. A., Tomley. S. (et al.) 2011. The Philosophy Book New York, United States: DK Publishing p. 39

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15 thoughts on “Confucianism and the Golden Rule

  1. This is a great point. Libertarians like to limit the laws to prevent harming others. They say that laws that prescribe action are more oppressive than the laws that prohibit action.
    http://bastiat.org/en/the_law.html#SECTION_G030
    In most cases, I would agree. There is a great chance that another person would not like to be treated as I would like to be treated.

    But there are situations that compel to act. E.g. to save someone’s life from an imminent danger if it’s in our power. The problem is that sometimes people have different ideas of “danger” and “saving”. I reflected on it some time ago.
    https://thousayest.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/saving-others/

    It’s hard to make a “golden rule” that would apply to all situations.

  2. If the comment, “It’s a flawed principle” refers to the so-called golden rule, I agree. Why have rules at all? Why not rely on the common sense underlying compassion?

  3. Why not rely on the common sense underlying compassion?

    You don’t comment on Christian websites, do you? If you did, you’d realize that there are those out there who lack common sense!

    Try telling Young Earth Creationists about Israel’s nearby Skhul and Qafzeh caves, where researchers have uncovered early modern human remains that are 100,000 years old.

  4. @Sha’Tara, you may be familiar with Voltaire’s saying “Common sense is not so common.” The rules are needed exactly for this reason: to clarify what constitutes “common sense” and put it in writing.

    All rules and laws apply to specific situations. This is true even for the laws of physics. One can’t say “water boils at 100C” in general because this applies only to liquid water at certain conditions of gravity, air pressure, salt content, etc. Most general statements lack meaning without a context.

  5. My dear Arch, I know exactly what you mean. As an ex-Catholic, and ex-born again Christian, the very last thing I would want to do is engage Christian sites, or enter into any Christian organization or attempt any kind of intelligent dialogue with a “real” Christian. Binder, Dundat and definitely don’t work. Christianity/Christianism and Compassion are mutually exclusive terms to infinity. Many people comment on the blogs I follow that they don’t understand why religious people are so evil and so ignorant. Since many of these commenters insist on also believing in some god, I just say that they worship evil gods and they are made in their god’s image. In a way, since we create our own gods, it is a truism, but in reverse: we make our gods in our own image. Then we freeze those images in absolute values and then innocens die and knowledge becomes a tool of the Devil in direct proportion to the power of the religious belief. I interact with feminists who worship the Christian God and somehow don’t realize the dichotomy, that if their religions were destroyed the success of their struggle would be advanced to the nth degree. ‘Nuff, McDuff…

  6. Aw, you guys are so smart… what a refreshing thing to encounter! :-) I know what you mean, and I was just writing like heaving a huge sigh! If only, if only… This is probably not the blog to mention this, but lacking the higher education thing I’ve experimented with myself on how a less educated person could still come out ahead of the crowd of sheeple, how could she know, just know, without the backing of an encyclopedia or access to Google Search. I’ve been approaching life from a concept of compassion – something that anyone can practice, even someone totally illiterate. Something that actually no longer requires rules of interaction-not speaking of rules re: physics or general science, or governing the natural world, just those rules that keep people from robbing, hating, killing each other. Society’s rules haven’t been terribly effective in making the creatures better, so I was just looking for something that could have a chance, however remote, to work for anybody who wanted it – again totally regardless of status, class, race, religion, education. What can I say? Works for me – I just had to make a choice to do it and not look back.

  7. …lacking the higher education thing I’ve experimented with myself on how a less educated person could still come out ahead of the crowd of sheeple.

    You are defining education too narrowly – education is all of your experiences, good or bad.

  8. Thanks, Arch. Sometimes I just wonder. The usual context of “education” in our society is accounted as papers on the wall, diplomas, degrees and corresponding professional status. I have now retired acquaintances from various “degreed” professions who still manage to make me feel small and inadequate in exchanges with them. The other day I had to let one of them sort of have it and blurted: “Listen, to me “degrees” define how hot or cold it is! If your degree is that valuable, show me, don’t tell me.” You’re right, after all the ability to shovel big words should not determine how educated a person is. There’s a blog I somehow interacted with that posted a thing using the term, nostaleolistitec without any explanation. Web search revealed zero entry, so I asked, I thought politely, what the hell that meant. The blogger went to quite a bit of effort to explain, using other equally big words (you’d like one of them, it was “overarching”!) which explained nothing. I’m still completely in the dark, but maybe it’s better here.

  9. …the ability to shovel big words should not determine how educated a person is….

    Hemingway deliberately used small words, he felt they were more effective.

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