Chapter 9  Kantian Theory : The Categorical Imperative
Not the Golden Rule

The Categorical Imperative is NOT the Golden Rule 

With the Golden rule you are to:       Act as you would have others act towards you. 

The Golden Rule Around the World  

The same essential golden rule has been taught by all the major religions (and philosophies) of the world going back approximately 3500 years.


HINDUISM (Vedic religion from c. 13th century BC)

Do not to others what ye do not wish done to yourself...

--This is the whole Dharma, heed it well.

The Mahabarata, cited in Das, 1955, p. 398.


ZOROASTRIANISM (c. 12th century BC)

Human nature is good only when it does not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.

Dadistan-i-Dinik, 94:5; in Müller, chapter 94, vol 18, 1882, p. 269.


JUDAISM (c. 10th? century BC)

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary; go learn it.

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a, as cited in Glatzer, 1969, p. 197.


BUDDHISM (c. 6th century BC)

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

   Udanavargu, 5:18, Tibetan Dhammapada, 1983.


JAINISM (c. 6th century BC)

In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief,

regard all creatures as you would regard your own self.

Yoga-Sastra, cited in Bull, 1969, p. 92.


CONFUCIANISM (c. 6th century BC)

     Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.

Confucius, Analects, 15:23, 6:28; Mahabharara, 5:1517,

in Confucius, The Analects, 1992.


CHRISTIANITY (c. 1st century AD)

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Luke 6:13

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.

Matthew 7:12


ISLAM (c. 7th century AD)

No one of you is a believer until you desire for another that which you desire for yourself.

The Sunnah (from the Hadith), publ. 1975.


Gregory IX to French bishops concerning the attitude of Christians towards the Jews:

"Est autem Judćis a Christianis exhibenda benignitas, quam Christianis in Paganismo existentibus cupimus exhiberi"

(Christians must show towards Jews the same good will which we desire to be shown to Christians in pagan lands)

In a Brief dated 6 April, 1233


SIKHISM (c. 15th century AD)

Be not estranged from another for, in every heart, Pervades the Lord.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib, in Singh (trans.) 1963, p. 250.


BAHÁ'Í (c. 19th century AD)

Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. This is my command unto thee, do thou observe it.

     Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, Arabic 29  



Golden Rule :      Act as you would have others act towards you. 

Categorical Imperative: Act as you would want all other people to act towards all other people.

Act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were a universal law.  

Perhaps the following cases illustrate the difference in a very clear manner.

(1) The Masochist example:  With the Golden rule a masochist or a sadist would be justified in causing or receiving pain.  This is not what the Kantian Principle would support. 

(2)  The Horny Martin Example:  From Don Berkich:

" Some  make the mistake of thinking that the First Formulation of the Categorical Imperative is but a badly worded version of the Biblical "Golden Rule"--Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Golden Rule, as Kant well knew, is a deeply misguided ethical principle. To see this, consider the following somewhat salacious example.

The Horny Martin Example

Suppose that Martin is 20 year-old college student. Suppose further that Martin has never been out on a date. The woman of his dreams finally agrees to go out with him. So Martin gets all dressed up and takes her out to a nice dinner, after which they drive up to Lookout Point. And...


Martin does unto others as he would have done unto himself,

with disastrous consequences.

Because the same result cannot be obtained by application of the Categorical Imperative, it follows that the Golden Rule and the Categorical Imperative are not extensionally equivalent. "

Return to the description of the categorical imperative here>> section.

© Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

Return to:               Table of Contents for the Online Textbook