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Who We Are

1791 to 1886

1791- 1855 Liu Pao-nan's Textual Exegesis of Confucius's Analects says: "Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you. Then by necessity we must do to others what we want them to do to us." (W. Chan 1955: 300)

1800s The Underground Railroad is a secret network of Americans who help black slaves escape into Canada. To raise funds, they sell anti-slavery tokens, imprinted with things like the golden rule or a crouching slave with the words "Am I not a man and a brother."

1812 The Grimm Brothers' "The old man and his grandson" tells how a grandson reminds his parents to follow the golden rule toward Grandpa (§§1.1 & 6.3).

1817-92 Bahá'u'lláh in Persia establishes the Bahá'í faith, which believes in one God and ultimately just one religion. God revealed himself through prophets that include Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, Muhammad, and Bahá'u'lláh. Humanity is one family and needs to live together in love and fellowship. The Bahá'í golden rule says: "One should wish for one's brother that which one wishes for oneself."

1818 Sir Walter Scott's Rob Roy novel says: "'Francis understands the principle of all moral accounting, the great ethic rule of three. Let A do to B, as he would have B do to him; the product will give the conduct required.' My father smiled at this reduction of the golden rule to arithmetical form."

1818 The Presbyterian General Assembly uses the golden rule to condemn slavery.

1826 Joseph Butler, in a sermon on self-deceit, says: "Substitute another for yourself, consider yourself as the person affected by such a behavior, or toward whom such an action is done: and then you would not only see, but likewise feel, the reasonableness or unreasonableness of such an action."

1827 Joseph Smith receives the Book of Mormon, which has the golden rule: "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets" (3 Nephi 14:12).

1828 The Methodist Christian Advocate uses the golden rule to protest America's treatment of Indians.

1836 Angelina Grimké's Appeal to the Christian Women of the South asks: "Are you willing to enslave your children? You start back with horror at such a question. But why, if slavery is no wrong to those upon whom it is imposed? Why if, as has often been said, slaves are happier than their masters, free from the cares of providing for themselves? Do you not perceive that as soon as this golden rule of action is applied to yourselves that you shrink from the test?"

1840 Arthur Schopenhauer's On the Basis of Morality puts compassion at the center: an action has moral worth just if its ultimate motive is the happiness or misery of another (and not our own). Here I directly desire the happiness (or misery-avoidance) of another as if it were my one.

1841 Sarah Griffin's Familiar Tales for Children has a poem: "To do to others as I would, That they should do to me, Will make me gentle, kind, and good, As children ought to be." Some add: "The golden rule, the golden rule, Ah, that's the rule for me, To do to others as I wish, That they should do to me."

1850 Rev. James Thornwell criticizes anti-slavery arguments by attacking the golden rule, using Kant's 1785 criminal example.

1850 President Millard Fillmore, in his State of the Union Address, says: "The great law of morality ought to have a national as well as a personal and individual application. We should act toward other nations as we wish them to act toward us, and justice and conscience should form the rule of conduct."

1851 Mormon Brigham Young, asked about law in Utah, says: "We have a common law which is written upon the tablets of the heart; one of its golden precepts is 'Do unto others as you would they should do unto you.'"

1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin explains slave life and gets people to imagine themselves in slave shoes. One episode features two ministers. One quotes "Cursed be Canaan" from the Bible and explains that God intends Africans to be kept in low condition as servants. A second repeats the golden rule. As a slave "John, aged thirty" is separated from his wife and dragged off the boat with much sorrow, the second minister tells a slave trader: "How dare you carry on a trade like this? Look at these poor creatures!" Stowe's novel became, after the Bible, the best-selling book of the 19th century.

1853 Abraham Lincoln appeals to consistency: "You say A is white and B black, and so A can enslave B. It is color, then, the lighter having the right to enslave the darker? By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet with a fairer skin than yours. You do not mean color exactly? You mean whites are intellectually superior to blacks, and therefore have the right to enslave them? By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet with an intellect superior to yours."

1854 Charles Dickens's Hard Times novel protests poverty caused by greed. Sissy Jupe, asked to give political economy's first principle, is scolded for her answer, "To do unto others as I would that they should do unto me."


1854 Abraham Lincoln quips: "Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself."

1855 Frederick Douglass, a black ex-slave, writes: "I love the religion of our blessed Savior. I love that religion that is based upon the glorious principle, of love to God and love to man; which makes its followers do unto others as they themselves would be done by. If you demand liberty to yourself, it says, grant it to your neighbors. If you claim a right to think for yourself, allow your neighbors the same right. It is because I love this religion that I hate the slaveholding, the woman-whipping, the mind-darkening, the soul-destroying religion that exists in the southern states of America."

1858 Abraham Lincoln gives this golden-rule evaluation of slavery: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master." The next year, he says: "He who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave."

1860 Rev. John Dagg defends slavery. He says blacks are incapable of exercising civil liberty (so being freed would hurt them), masters ought to care for their slaves (but their occasional cruelty doesn't show that slavery is wrong), the Bible by not condemning slavery implicitly teaches that it's permissible, and the abolitionist the golden rule is flawed (using Kant's 1785 criminal example). 

1861 John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism argues that our duty is to do whatever maximizes the sum-total of everyone's good (measured by pleasure and pain). He states: "In the golden rule of Jesus, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality."

1865 Abraham Lincoln quips: "I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly, those who desire it for others. When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

1867 Matilda Mackarness's The Golden Rule: Stories Illustrative of the Ten Commandments helps British children learn right from wrong. This was published by Routledge, as is this present book.

1867 Rev. Robert Dabney uses Kant's 1785 criminal example to ridicule the abolitionist use of the golden rule to condemn slavery.

1870 Felix Adler's "The freedom of ethical fellowship" says the golden rule "may be defended on various grounds. The egoist may advise us so to act on grounds of enlightened self-interest. The universalist may exhort us to carry out the rule in the interest of the general happiness. The evolutionist may recommend it as the indispensable condition of social order and progress. The Kantian may enforce it because it bears the test of universality and necessity. The follower of Schopenhauer may concur on grounds of sympathy. Is it not evident that the rule itself is more certain than any of the principles from which it may be deduced? With respect to them, men have differed and will differ. With respect to the rule itself, there is practical unanimity."

1871 Charles Darwin's Descent of Man talks about ethics and evolution. He argues that animals with social instincts naturally develop a moral sense as their intellectual powers develop. Human morality evolves from a limited tribal concern to a higher, universal concern that's summed up in the golden rule.

1874 David Swing's Truths for Today says: "The golden rule underlies our public and private justice, our society, our charity, our education, our religion; and the sorrows of bad government, of famine, of war, of caste, of slavery, have come from contempt of this principle."

1874 Henry Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics says: "The golden rule, 'Do to others as you would have them do to you,' is imprecise in statement; for one might wish for another's co-operation in sin. Nor is it true to say that we ought to do to others only what we think it right for them to do to us; for there may be differences in circumstances which make it wrong for A to treat B in the way it is right for B to treat A. The rule strictly stated must take some form as this: 'It cannot be right for A to treat B in a manner in which it would be wrong for B to treat A, unless we can find reasonable ground for difference of treatment.' Such a principle does not give complete guidance; but its truth is self-evident and common sense has recognized its practical importance." (My §2.1b sees this proposed rule as impartiality, not as the golden rule.)

1879 McGuffey's Fourth Eclectic Reader has a story about a little girl Susan who learns the golden rule from her mother and then returns money she was given by mistake. McGuffey Readers were widely used in American grade schools, had a high golden-rule moral content, and sold 120 million copies between 1836 and 1960.

1885 Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health puts the golden rule as one of six tenets of Christian Science, which she founded: "We promise to watch and pray for that mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus; to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; and to be merciful, just, and pure."

1886 Josiah Royce's Religious Aspects of Philosophy suggests (my paraphrase): Treat others as if you were both yourself and the other, with the experiences of both included in one life.



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