The Golden Rule is fantastic. All the world’s major literary cultures—Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, ancient Egyptians, and, especially, Confucians—have at some point recognized that, if you had to choose just one short proverb to live your life by, “treat others the way we want to be treated” is pretty much the best you can do.
The Golden Rule is powerful because it is universal: it captures most of morality in just a single sentence.
I think that a good piece of philosophy, however, has to be more than broad-reaching. A good proverb has to jump out at you with specifics. It needs to immediately suggest to you the ways that you can take action to improve your adherence to virtue—not just in some hypothetical scenario in the distance future, but right now.
In its common, general form, the Golden Rule doesn’t really meet this criterion. For the Golden Rule to be useful as a philosophy—as a self-monitoring tool, as a meditation practice, as a way of life—it needs to be operationalized.
This is why I love the post that Rob Thompson wrote this weekend over at Prokopton.com: Why Stoics should Love the Golden Rule. Rob collects no less than 7 variations of the Golden Rule from ancient Stoic literature—and the interesting thing about them is that they are all situation-specific.