Hillel and Confucius: The prescriptive formulation of the golden rule in the Jewish and Chinese Confucian ethical traditions

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 3 (1):29-41 (2003)
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In this article, the Golden Rule, a central ethical value to both Judaism and Confucianism, is evaluated in its prescriptive and proscriptive sentential formulations. Contrary to the positively worded, prescriptive formulation – “Love others as oneself” – the prohibitive formulation, which forms the injunction, “Do not harm others, as one would not harm oneself,” is shown to be the more prevalent Judaic and Confucian presentation of the Golden Rule. After establishing this point, the remainder of the article is dedicated to an inquiry into why this preference between the two Golden-Rule-formulations occurs. In doing so, this article discovers four main benefits to the proscriptive formulations: I) harm-doing, as opposed to generalizable moral goodness, is easier for individuals to subjectively comprehend II) the prevention of harm-doing is the most fundamental ethical priority III) the proscriptive formulation preserves self-directed discovery of what is good, thus preserving moral autonomy IV) individuals are psychologically pre-disposed toward responding to prohibitions rather than counsels of goodness.

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Robert E. Allinson
Soka University


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