Silver, Gold, and Platinum

Sabio Lantz posted this image:

In the post, he argues that the Golden Rule is deeply flawed. The post mirrors a discussion we had here a while back, in response to a Sunday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon. Many commenters then suggested that the Golden Rule, unless understood in an unnecessarily literal fashion, is really about empathy – not doing to someone else what you want regardless of what their own needs and wants are, but placing yourself in their situation and doing what you perceive you would hope for in that circumstance.

Without empathy, the Platinum Rule seems no more workable than the Golden Rule, and with empathy, the two are pretty much the same thing.

What do others think?


  • Keika

    The Titanium Rule: Do unto others knowing your metal
    will never bend unto their unto’s.

  • David_Evans

    I think the Gold and Silver rules are useful as a quick guide in situations where you don’t have enough data for empathy.

    The Platinum rule, taken literally, would put me at the mercy of any demanding “other”. There ought to be a caveat: these rules are not to privilege one person’s interests over another’s.

  • Sabio Lantz

    (1) One of my points of the post is that Jesus’ teachings are bland and old.

    And in this case, stated more poorly than the older versions.

    But inevitably, since apparently Jesus said it, Christians rush to its apologetic rescue.

    (2) Another point is that these are heuristics, or “quick guide in situations where you don’t have enough data for empathy” as David Evans said.

    (3) Lastly, trying to show that multi-layered heuristics are better than simple heuristics. Much like multi-layered myths are better than flat myths.

    As an emphasis for empathy and loving others as yourself, it is all good, of course.

    Thanx for the mention. Especially on a day that I put up a very inappropriate post.

  • Bernard Muller

    The ones who practice that golden rule can get highly frustrated when the others do not reciprocate. That might even lead to anger and violence. Acts of kindness should be disinterested and nothing should be expected in return.

    That golden rule (Mt 7:12, Lk 6:31) seems to be an extrapolation of Pharisee Hillel “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man” (the equivalent of the silver rule) which makes a lot of good sense to me.

    This golden rule is deeply flawed, I agree. It is rather socially problematic in the real world. Actually, different cultures in antiquity have many versions of the silver rule but very few of the golden rule.

    It seems that golden rule was put in the mouth of Jesus by the Q people in order to have him outdo the Pharisees.

    Cordially, Bernard

    • Sabio Lantz

      Thanx, Bernard — I am going to copy your comment onto my blog (if you don’t mind). Interesting contribution.
      (1) Because you agree with its obvious flaws
      (2) You give reasons it was put in the mouth of Jesus (which it obviously was)

      • Bernard Muller

        Sure, go ahead.
        Cordially, Bernard

      • Ian

        Why do you think it was obviously put in the mouth of Jesus?

        I’m not averse to the idea, and I certainly don’t think we have enough evidence to say it wasn’t, but equally it isn’t nearly obvious to me that this doesn’t trace back to authentic teachings of the historical Jesus.

        • Sabio Lantz

          You are quite right, Ian. My “obvious” was based on no evidence.

          I could, of course, muster all my intellectual abilities, hit a few wiki pages and several Biblical research sites and paste together some rationale – or certainly some distraction — making the appearance of some degree of evidence, but I shan’t.

          But here are pieces floating around in my brain that probably caused me to type out that unsupportive rhetoric:

          (1) the gospel authors appear to have made their character, “Jesus” as a voice to their concerns: anti- something-or-other, or pro-something-or-other

          (2) the Golden Rule (or its variants had been around for a long time), put it in the mouth of a character in your plot would seem a common ploy.

          That’s probably where I got that. It is hard to look behind one’s mind to see its workings.

          But, who knows, as you say, this could be an actual bland teaching of a guy who was later turned into a god. Indeed could be the actually words of some bland, generic teacher back then, who got deified and now his bland teachings get unnecessarily sanctified as a whole package deal.

          • Ian

            I didn’t have an ulterior motive for the question, I was genuinely curious why you said ‘obvious’. Thanks for the clarification. I thought I might have missed part of the convo.

          • Bernard Muller

            I do not think Jesus’ teaching, as presented by Q, is always bland.

            Q also gave us Lk 6:29 “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.”
            (which Jesus is never said to have done in the gospels!).

            These extreme (& socially unworkable!) sayings were likely invented to make Jesus outdo the popular cynic-like sages of the late 1st century.

            And then there are the sandals. In gMark (1:7), it is suggested Jesus would wear sandals. However in (written later) gMatthew (3:11), the reverse is suggested.

            Also, in gLuke & gMatthew, as directed by Q, the disciples are commanded to go preaching with a lot less things than the cynic-like sages of the late 1st century (reference: Musonius Rufus, Dio Chrysostom & Epictepus. More details here ).

            – Lk 9:3 “He told them: “Take nothing for the journey- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.””
            - Lk 10:4a Darby “Carry neither purse nor scrip nor sandals …”
            - Mt 10:9-10 “Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; …”

            Once again, this was invented to have Jesus’ disciples outdo the cynic-like sages.

            I certainly can see a pattern here, with the Q golden rule as part of it: Jesus and disciples outdoing the competition (present or future).

            Cordially, Bernard

            • Sabio Lantz

              @ Bernard

              I never said, “always”.

              (1) is there another more common name for your “cynic-like sages”?

              (2) what does the little “g” mean before the Gospel names?

              • Bernard Muller


                Sorry about “always”.

                1) Apparently, true cynic sages reappeared in the early part of the second century. But before that, there were a few Cynic, or proto-Cynic sages in the late 1st century. Here is my evidence:

                - Musonius Rufus (30?-100?) (presumably referring to early itinerant Cynic-like sages) “… only a cloak is preferable to wearing one[chiton]. Also going barefoot is better than wearing sandals, if one can it, for wearing sandals is next to being bound …” (Fragment XIX)

                - Dio Chrysostom (40?-120?) “Someone who is unkempt and wears his garment closely wrapped about him and has no companions on his walks, a man who makes himself the first target for examination and reproof. … I am well aware that it is customary for most people to give the name of Cynic to men who dress as I do;” (Discourses 33.14, 34.2) (Note: at times during the 82-96 period, Dio lived as a Cynic-like vagabond)

                - Epictetus (55?-135?) “And how is it possible that a man who has nothing, who is naked, house-less, without a hearth, squalid, without a slave, without a city, can pass a life that flows easily? See, God has sent you a man to show you that it is possible. …
                So do you [would-be Cynics] also think about the matter carefully; it is not what you think it is. “I wear a rough cloak even as it is, and I shall have one then … I shall take to myself a wallet and a staff, and I shall begin to walk around and beg from those I meet, and revile them …”
                Lo, these are words that befit a Cynic, this is his character, and his plan of life. But no, you say, what makes a Cynic is a contemptible wallet, a staff, …” (Discourses, ‘On the Calling of a Cynic’, 3.22)

                2) “g” stands for “gospel according to”.
                When I started to write on early Christianity, that was a fairly common abbreviation used by “amateurs”.

                Cordially, Bernard

                • Sabio Lantz

                  Fascinating ! Thank you, sir.

                  * cutting and pasting into my notes — so much to learn.

  • guest

    I think in order to follow the platinum rule, you have to know the person fairly well, in order to guess at how they like to be treated. I guess you could just keep asking them ‘is this ok?’ ‘is this ok?’ all the time, but that would be annoying and impede social interaction. I think I use a version of the platinum rule with my family and friends, in that I can work out what makes them happy and try to do that. The golden rule works okay with people you know less well, and the silver rule seems best for total strangers, since you don’t need to be involved with someone to not do things to them.
    The only snag I can see with the platinum rule is if someone is depressed and feels they are unworthy of love and deserve to be treated badly. Should you beat them? Or does their illness prevent them from knowing what they ‘really’ want and so you should try to act in their best interests (as defined by you). What if what they want is euthanasia? What if one person wants you to hurt another person?

  • GakuseiDon

    “What about masochists?” Ye gads, I hate people like this. They are the ones who take someone’s analogy, try to apply it at a point other than where it applies, and then says “Therefore the analogy fails!”

    If we can find an example of depraved thinking that could misuse the Platinum Rule, does that mean the Platinum Rule somehow fails? Maybe we need to establish the audience to whom the Rules either apply or don’t apply, give a whole list of conditions first.

    I propose a Revised Platinum Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you, but check with your lawyers first.

    • Peter Hardy

      That’s not misunderstanding how analogies are meant to work, it’s just good philosophy.

  • arcseconds

    Lantz’s objections to the Golden Rule are also tired and bland ;-)

    Yes, it’s clear that if the rule is understood as an instruction to a literal-minded and obedient automaton without any empathy or pre-existing concept of moral action, such a being will occasionally do things which aren’t good (although if it were previously maximising its own utility, it would likely be a marked improvement).

    Worse, if you’ve somehow bound someone intent on doing bad by this rule (how could this happen? Have you summoned a demon?), they can find ways of perverting it in order to do bad.

    But was that ever how the rule was intended? Was it ever how the rule was understood?

    I think it’s best understood (and has been so understood by many Christians over the centuries) as an exhortation to people who already possess empathy and some moral sense to be thoroughly other-regarding, which should be seen in the context of other such exhortations as “love thy neighbour as thyself” (and who is your neighbour? cue the samaritan parable).

    I don’t really know much about the history of moral thought in the ancient world. But it appears to me that prior to the New Testament, this idea is not at all common. Ancient moral thought has, it seems to me, often been around appeasing the gods (which is not clearly separated from pragmatism, and often expressed in highly pragmatic terms), obeying list of rules (Code of Hammurabi, Leviticus), respecting authority figures and tradition, and maintaining one’s honour. The Greek philosophers had something different going on, often to do with embodying a certain kind of aristocratic ideal. But the idea that to act rightly is to align yourself thoroughly with others, and not just your mates, or your social superiors, but anyone, is, it seems to me, genuinely a new development.

    (I’m not necessarily proposing that this is completely unheard of prior to the New Testament, or that Jesus or the writers of the New Testament invented it, but as far as I know this concept either didn’t exist at all, or had little currency in the West prior to the 1st century, and the New Testament is certainly the vehicle by which it became familiar to western culture.)

    Of course, it’s not novel now, but any idea can be bland and old once it’s been around for a few thousand years.

    • Sabio Lantz

      arcseconds :

      You said,

      “I don’t really know much about the history of moral thought in the ancient world. But it appears to me that prior to the New Testament, this idea is not at all common.”

      Your first sentence is absolutely correct. And it shows why your second sentence and what follows is absolutely wrong. See the wiki article on the Golden Rule and the hx of the Golden Rule or other reciprocal heuristics.

      • arcseconds

        I am aware that there are instances that look a bit like the Golden Rule, and even prior statements of it (most of the statements there are at best similar, not the same).

        But just because you can find statements to this effect, does not mean that it was considered an important principle prior to the New Testament. Plato saying something in passing that resembles it doesn’t elevate this kind of thinking to a central place in moral thought. Plato’s ethics do not give altruism or being other-focused a central place at all.

        Whereas Jesus (as portrayed in the Gospels) does. Most clearly in reducing ‘the Law’ to two principles, love God and love thy neighbour, but even after giving the Golden Rule he says “this is the law and the prophets”. There are, of course, many other instances where selfless charity is emphasized in the New Testament.

        Hillel’s statement that the Silver Rule is the whole of the Torah is more like it — but this was also in the 1st century!

        If you can show me that there was a substantial movement or influential thinker in the West prior to the 1st century that had this central emphasis on altruism and selflessness, I might reconsider the idea that the Gospels aren’t treading new ground, or at the very least packaging up a take on morality that had hitherto been of very limited circulation to widespread consumption for the first time.

        What I’m basically asking for here is proof that people encountering the Gospels for the first time would have said “oh, yes, this stuff again. That’s just X.” What is X here?

        • Sabio Lantz

          I let you keep your ambition that Jesus was brilliantly unique offering a radical ethic in the history of mankind.
          No time, nor desire, to chat through your bias.
          Thanx anyway.

          • arcseconds

            Oh Sabio, you’re no fun, although you are mischaracterizing my positon quite hilariously. But don’t worry, I’m not going to let it go unnoticed!

            I have been quite careful not to credit Jesus with anything, and I’ve even allowed for an other-focused ethic to have pre-existed the Gospels. I’ve even admitted that Hillel seems to have had the same idea!

            So much for this ‘ambition’ of a ‘brilliantly unique’ Jesus etc. Tell me, are you attributing this to me because your reading comprehension is so poor that when I write “the authors of the Gospels” you read “Jesus” (this being not the only but the most egregious of the mistakes you’d have to make to conclude I had such a view)?

            Or are you just upset because I don’t agree with you?

            Or maybe it’s you’re own anti-Jesus biases that are causing you to suspect anyone who doesn’t immediately go with whatever criticism is on offer as having a pro-Jesus bias? (I can play the ‘obviously you don’t agree because of hidden biases’ game too!)

            All I’m saying is that as far as I know, an ethic that has regard for others as a central point is new (west of India at any rate) in the first century, and the Gospels were the primary means that this spread. It’s possible there’s something I’m ignorant of, but I would be surprised if it were a substantial movement or a person of great influence. If you know of an example of this, even an obscure one, then you’d be doing me a great favour by simply informing me.

            If you can’t, then I still don’t know of any examples of this prior to the first century. I’m going to stick with my bias for sticking with my current beliefs until I have evidence otherwise (or maybe it’s my bias for Jesus — it’s difficult to be sure!).

            • Sabio Lantz

              Sorry, arc, your style of dialogue is not inviting to me. Why not start a blog and share your wisdom.

              • arcseconds

                What kind of response do you normally get when you respond to a request for evidence with sarcasm and mischaracterization? If you want a more ‘inviting’ response you might want to look at those reciprocal rules of yours.

                Anyway, I’m sure you can’t have any such evidence, because it would have been easier to simply give me it than continue with your passive-aggressive antics.

                • Sabio Lantz

                  You are right. You win.
                  And the psycho-analysis was a special benefit.
                  Thank you.

        • AtalantaBethulia

          RE: “If you can show me that there was a substantial movement or influential thinker in the West prior to the 1st century that had this central emphasis on altruism and selflessness, I might reconsider the idea that the Gospels aren’t treading new ground,”

          Karen Armstrong has written on this extensively. It can be found in multiple of her works including “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” and I believe it is also covered in “The History of God.” It was a principle espoused by Laozi,
          Confucius, as well as the Buddha putting it solidly well ahead of the first century. It is also found in the Mahabharata and in Zoroastrianism.

          • arcseconds

            Did you read the comment of mine you quoted? I’m supposing you don’t actually think of Laozi as a western figure. I explicitly restricted my remarks to ‘west of India’ in my other reply to Sabio.

            Zoroastrianism is an interesting point, as it is west of India and not too far from Israel and the Mediterranean. I don’t know very much about it, and I’ll look into it. Thanks for mentioning it.

            • AtalantaBethulia

              My apologies for my error.

              I’m curious. Why did you limit your inquiry to “influential thinker[s] in the West”?

  • arcseconds

    The ‘can’t follow this rule blindly or perversely and always end up with good results’ objection is pretty much the same problem that is commonly raised these days against Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which has more than a faint resemblance to the Golden Rule.

    Now, such an objection is more appropriately made against a philosophical principle as opposed to an exhortation, but it still rests on understanding the principle as a rule for an automaton. It’s almost certainly not how Kant thought of it — for a start, he gives three (or four, depending on how you count them) formulations of the Categorical Imperative, which he claims have the same content but ‘speak to us in different ways’. Only one of the formulations is stated in a way as to be tempting to understand it as a legalistic rule, for which you’re off the hook if you can find some way of weaseling out.

    I’m pretty sure, also, that the kinds of tricks used to make these objections are a modern invention, and if not a modern invention, then they’re certainly made a lot more ‘obvious’ by the modern context. We’ve had over a century now of analytic philosophy (with its focus on language, logic and rules), widespread automation, and culturally dominant achievements of a highly technical and (broadly speaking) mathematical nature. Computers have been around for over half of that time.

    I submit that this cultural focus leads us to misinterpretation. Our lives are spent directing idiots with no understanding (I’m sure we’ve all experienced this with actual people (on this very blog, what’s more! hi Theo – and look at how trying to give rules and clear, unambiguous statements that can’t be misinterpreted works out there) but I’m thinking primarily of computers here) and we think proper analysis is about explaining something to an idiot with no understanding. So we’re mislead into thinking that because these principles don’t work like that, they don’t work at all.

    (There might also be an influence from political thought here: we tend to think that society is about directing idiots with no understanding (or perversely selfish people) too. )

    The complaints by German philosophers following Kant was not that the Categorical Imperative failed due to cleverly-formulated counter-examples, but that it was an ‘empty formalism’. They would surely have regarded fooling around with such counter-examples as further dicking around with empty formalism — by doing so you still buy into the idea that there might be a formal principle not subject to clever misinterpretation that would actually be any use.

  • Guest

    They all mean the same thing: live with compassion. Any argument that they are different is a petty argument based on minor grammatical distinctions. We really have better things to spend energy on than to dissect each others catch-phrases.

  • CurtisMSP

    They all mean the same thing: live with compassion. Any argument that they are different is a petty argument based on minor grammatical differences. We really have better things to spend our energy on than dissecting each others catch-phrases.

    • Sabio Lantz

      How about unfounded arguments telling us they all mean the same thing? Are they petty wastes of time? Hmmmm? Great rhetoric — not!

    • Peter Hardy

      The silver rule has very different consequences indeed. It’s about not interfering with others, whereas the golden rule (yes I agree with the author that the platinum rule is the same thing) is about proactively going out of your way to help people. In a word, being ‘Christian’ rather than just not being a jerk.

  • buzzdixon

    IIRC the Platinum Rule was coined by Dr Alex Comfort for his book The Joy Of Sex. Takes on a different meaning in that context.

    The Golden Rule = treat others the way you want to be treated. You wouldn’t want anybody doing something that might affect you w/o them asking first if it’s okay, right?

    Well, there ya go…