The best known (and most parsimonious) rule of ethics is what is known as the “golden rule” which most of us learned as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This maxim is found throughout history and in almost all religions. For example,
In ancient Greek philosophy:
- Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him. – Pittacus
- Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing. – Thales
- What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either. – Sextus the Pythagorean
- Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others. – Isocrates
- What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others. – Epictetus
- It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing ‘neither to harm nor be harmed’), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life. – Epicurus
- One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him. – Plato’s Socrates
In the Bible, the Apocrypha, and Torah (those three overlap in what is considered canonical):
- Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD. – Leviticus 19:18
- But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. – Leviticus 19:34
- 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. – Matthew 7:12
- And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. – Luke 6:31
- Do to no one what you yourself dislike. – Tobit 4:15
- Recognize that your neighbor feels as you do, and keep in mind your own dislikes. – Sirach 31:15
- That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn. – Talmud, Shabbat 31a
In the eastern religions of Confucianism and Hinduism:
- Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire. – Confucius, Analects XV.24
- One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires. – Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8)
Some of these formulations are superior to others. Those worded in the positive (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”) are unworkable. There is no natural limit to the amount of self-sacrifice involved. (E.g. I would like it if everyone gave me all their money, so I must give away all my money to others.) The negative formulations are superior (“Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.”) but still have a problem in that people’s desires can be, and generally are, different.
As George Bernard Shaw said in Maxims for Revolutionists in 1903, “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” In other words if we should treat others as we want to be treated, then a masochist following the golden rule becomes a sadist.
Perhaps a better ethical formulation can be found in Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, which can be stated, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” This is a deontological (as opposed to utilitarian) view of the world, which holds that ends cannot justify means. Indeed as Emerson believed, the ends pre-exist in the means.
Thus, the fundamental code of ethics here at Financial Architects is Kant’s. In addition, the myriad designations and memberships held by principals at Financial Architects subject us to numerous other codes of ethics and standards of professional conduct including: