Global wisdom traditions

This workroom explores what wise insights are conveyed in traditional experience. Evidence of human diversity provided by historians and anthropologists is sometimes used to justify the notion that culturally and morally there is no common ground. The following collation challenges that by illustrating a range of trans-cultural continuities, sometimes referred to as wisdom or in legal terms as natural law.

Within these traditions there are considerable differences, for instance in respect of the acceptance of slavery, rejection of homosexuality, and generally with regard to the status of animals. Even so recurrent features of global commonalities are there. Some of the philosophical issues involved in looking for shared values are identified in entries on absolutism, biogenetic determinants, categorical imperative, commandments and laws, natural law, relativism, universal values as set out in the Dictionary and Thesaurus for Ethics and Moral Education workroom.

The selected examples of global wisdom are arranged chronologically. They begin with a cross-cultural anthology compiled by the well known children’s author CS Lewis, which he entitled ‘The Tao’ – the human way. This is followed by a succession of individual formulations.

'The TAO' - An Anthology

In 1943 CS Lewis gave a series of lectures at Durham University entitled The Abolition of Man. They were reflections on education. They also provide a backdrop to the beliefs and values which inform his children’s stories and science fiction. He argues for common sense as a universal basis of objective values. Lumping together moralities from East and West, both ‘religious’ and ‘pagan’, he acknowledges variations, but he insists that ‘from within’ they share in a common progressive Way which he calls the Tao:

“What I have for convenience called the Tao and which others
may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason is not one among a series of possible system of values. It is the sole source of all value judgements.” p 33. “In the
Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find the concrete reality
in which we participate to be truly human: the real common will and common reason of humanity, alive and growing like a tree, and branching out, as the situation varies into ever new beauties and dignities of application.” p 51.

Although the bibliographical references and some of the language are very ‘dated’, Lewis’ compilation stands as illustrative of common elements in the history of civilisations. He sets out an indicative list of its qualities in an Appendix as follows:

I. The Law of General Beneficence

(a) Negative

'I have not slain men.' (Ancient Egyptian. From the Confession of the Righteous Soul, 'Book of the Dead', see Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics [= ERE], vol. 5, p 478).

'Do not murder.' (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:13).

'Terrify not men or God will terrify thee.' (Ancient Egyptian. Precepts of Ptahhetep. H. R. Hall Ancient History of the Near East, p 133).

'In Nastrond (= Hell) I saw... murderers.' (Old Norse. Volospd 38, 39).
'I have not brought misery upon my fellows. I have not made the beginning of every day laborious in the sight of him who worked for me.' (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE 5: 478).

'I have not been grasping.' (Ancient Egyptian. Ibid.)

'Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned.' (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE 5: 445).

'He who is cruel and calumnious has the character of a cat.' (Hindu. Laws of Manu. Janet, Histoire de la Science Politique, vol. 1: p. 6).

'Slander not.' (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE 5: 445).

'Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour.' (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16).

'Utter not a word by which anyone could be wounded.' (Hindu. Janet, p. 7).  
'Has he ... driven an honest man from his family? broken up a well
cemented clan?' (Babylonian. List of Sins from incantation tablets. ERE 5: 446).

'I have not caused hunger. I have not caused weeping.' (Ancient Egyptian. ERE 5: 478).

'Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.' (Ancient
Chinese. Analects of Confucius, trans. A. Waley, xv. 23j cf. xii. 2).

'Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.' (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:17).

'He whose heart is in the smallest degree set upon goodness will dislike no one.' (Ancient Chinese. Analects, iv. 4).

(b) Positive

'Nature urges that a man should wish human society to exist and should wish to enter it.' (Roman. Cicero, De Officiis, i. iv).

'By the fundamental Law of Nature Man [is] to be preserved as much as possible.' (Locke, Treatises of Civil Govt. ii. 3).

'When the people have multiplied, what next should be done for them? The Master said. Enrich them. Jan Ch'iu said. When one has enriched them, what next should be done for them? The Master said. Instruct them.' (Ancient Chinese. Analects, xiii. 9).

'Speak kindness ... show good will.' (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE 5: 445).

'Men were brought into existence for the sake of men that they might do one another good.' (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. vii).

'Man is man's delight.' (Old Norse. Havamal 47).

'He who is asked for alms should always give.' (Hindu. Janet, i. 7).

'What good man regards any misfortune as no concern of his?' (Roman. Juvenal xv. 140).

'I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.' (Roman. Terence, Heaut. Tim.).

'Love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:18).

'Love the stranger as thyself (Ancient Jewish. Ibid 19: 33, 34).

'Do to men what you wish men to do to you.' (Christian. Matthew 7: 12).


 2. The Law of Special Beneficence

'It is upon the trunk that a gentleman works. When that is firmly set up, the Way grows. And surely proper behaviour to parents and elder brothers is the trunk of goodness.' (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 2).

'Brothers shall fight and be each others' bane.' (Old Norse. Account of the Evil Age before the World's end, Volospd 45).

'Has he insulted his elder sister?' (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE 5. 446).

'You will see them take care of their kindred [and] the children of their friends ... never reproaching them in the least.' (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437).

'Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy Ufe long.' (Ancient Egyptian. ERE 5. 481).

'Nothing can ever change the claims of kinship for a right thinking man.' (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2600).

'Did not Socrates love his own children, though he did so as a free man and as one not forgetting that the gods have the first claim on our friendship?' (Greek, Epictetus, iii. 24).

'Natural affection is a thing right and according to Nature.' (Greek. Ibid. i. xi).

'I ought not to be unfeeling like a statue but should fulfil both my natural and artificial relations, as a worshipper, a son, a brother, a father, and a citizen.' (Greek. Ibid, lll.ii).

'This first I rede thee: be blameless to thy kindred. Take no vengeance even though they do thee wrong.' (Old Norse. Sigdrifumal, 22).

'Is it only the sons of Atreus who love their wives? For every good man, who is right-minded, loves and cherishes his own.' (Greek. Homer, Iliad, ix. 340).

'The union and fellowship of men will be best preserved if each receives from us the more kindness in proportion as he is more closely connected with us.' (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. xvi).

'Part of us is claimed by our country, part by our parents, part by our friends.' (Roman. Ibid. i. vii).

'If a ruler ... compassed the salvation of the whole state, surely you would call him Good? The Master said. It would no longer be a matter of "Good". He would without doubt be a Divine Sage.' (Ancient Chinese. Analects, vi. 28).

'Has it escaped you that, in the eyes of gods and good men, your native land deserves from you more honour, worship, and reverence than your mother and father and all your ancestors? That you should give a softer answer to its anger than to a father's anger? That if you cannot persuade it to alter its mind you must obey it in all quietness, whether it binds you or beats you or sends you to a war where you may get wounds or death?' (Greek. Plato, Crito, 51, a, b).

'If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith.' (Christian. I Timothy 5:8).

'Put them in mind to obey magistrates.'... 'I exhort that prayers be made for kings and all that are in authority.' (Christian. Titus 3:1 and I Timothy 2:1, 2).


3. Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors

'Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honour them, every work of piety is in vain. This is the first duty.' (Hindu. Janet, i. 9).

'Has he despised Father and Mother?' (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446).

'I was a staff by my Father's side ... I went in and out at his command.'

(Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 481).

'Honour thy Father and thy Mother.' (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:12).

'To care for parents.' (Greek. List of duties in Epictetus, 3. vii).

'Children, old men, the poor, and the sick, should be considered as the lords of the atmosphere.' (Hindu. Janet, i. 8).

'Rise up before the hoary head and honour the old man.' (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:32).

'I tended the old man, I gave him my staff.' (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481).

'You will see them take care ... of old men.' (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437).

'I have not taken away the oblations of the blessed dead.' (Ancient Egyptian.Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478).

'When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force (te) of a people has reached its highest point.' (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 9).


4. Duties to Children and Posterity

'Children, the old, the poor, etc. should be considered as lords of the atmosphere.' (Hindu. Janet, i. 8).

'To marry and to beget children.' (Greek. List of duties. Epictetus, 3. vii).

'Can you conceive an Epicurean commonwealth? . . . What will happen?

Whence is the population to be kept up? Who will educate them? Who will be Director of Adolescents? Who will be Director of Physical Training? What will be taught?' (Greek. Ibid.).

'Nature produces a special love of offspring' and 'To live according to Nature is the supreme good.' (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv, and De Legibus, i. xxi).

'The second of these achievements is no less glorious than the first; for while the first did good on one occasion, the second will continue to benefit the state for ever.' (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. xxii).

'Great reverence is owed to a child.' (Roman. Juvenal, xiv. 47).

'The Master said. Respect the young.' (Ancient Chinese. Analects, ix. 22).

'The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part... and we feel it very sorely.' (Redskin. Account of the Battle of Wounded Knee. ERE 5. 432).


5. The Law of Justice

(a) Sexual Justice

'Has he approached his neighbour's wife?' (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE 5. 446).

'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:14).

'I saw in Nastrond (= Hell)... beguilers of others' wives.' (Old Norse. Volospd 38, 39).

(b) Honesty

'Has he drawn false boundaries?' (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446).

'To wrong, to rob, to cause to be robbed.' (Babylonian. Ibid.).

'I have not stolen.' (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE 5. 478).

'Thou shalt not steal.' (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:15).

'Choose loss rather than shameful gains.' (Greek. Chilon Fr. 10. Diels).

'Justice is the settled and permanent intention of rendering to each man his rights.' (Roman. Justinian, Institutions I. i).

'If the native made a "find" of any kind (e.g., a honey tree) and marked it, it was thereafter safe for him, as far as his own tribesmen were concerned, no matter how long he left it.' (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 441).

'The first point of justice is that none should do any mischief to another

unless he has first been attacked by the other's wrongdoing. The second is that a man should treat common property as common property, and private property as his own. There is no such thing as private property by nature, but things have become private either through prior occupation (as when men of old came into empty territory) or by conquest, or law, or agreement, or stipulation, or casting lots.' (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii).

(c) Justice in Court

'Whoso takes no bribe ... well pleasing is this to Samas.' (Babylonian. ERE V. 445).

'I have not traduced the slave to him who is set over him.' (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478).

'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.' (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16).

'Regard him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not.'

(Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 482).

'Do no unrighteousness in judgement. You must not consider the fact that one party is poor nor the fact that the other is a great man.' (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:15).


6. The Law of Good Faith and Veracity

'A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud.' (Hindu. Janet, i. 6).

'Whose mouth, full of lying, avails not before thee: thou burnest their utterance.' (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445).

'With his mouth was he full of Yea, in his heart full of Nay? (Babylonian. ERE 5. 446).

'I have not spoken falsehood.' (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul ERE v. 478).

'I sought no trickery, nor swore false oaths.' (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2738).

'The Master said. Be of unwavering good faith.' (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13).

'In Nastrond (= Hell) I saw the perjurers.' (Old Norse. Volospa 39).

'Hateful to me as are the gates of Hades is that man who says one thing, and hides another in his heart.' (Greek. Homer. Iliad, ix. 312).

'The foundation of justice is good faith.' (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i.vii).

'[The gentleman] must learn to be faithful to his superiors and to keep promises.' (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 8).

'Anything is better than treachery.' (Old Norse. Havamal 124).


7. The Law of Mercy

'The poor and the sick should be regarded as lords of the atmosphere.' (Hindu. Janet, i. 8).

'Whoso makes intercession for the weak, well pleasing is this to Samas.' (Babylonian. ERE v. 445).

'Has he failed to set a prisoner free?' (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE 5. 446).

'I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless.' (Ancient Egyptian. ERE 5. 446).

'One should never strike a woman; not even with a flower.' (Hindu. Janet, i. 8).

'There, Thor, you got disgrace, when you beat women.' (Old Norse. Harbarthsljoth 38).

'In the Dalebura tribe a woman, a cripple from birth, was carried about by the tribes-people in turn until her death at the age of sixty-six.'... 'They never desert the sick.' (Australian Aborigines. ERE 5. 443).

'You will see them take care of., widows, orphans, and old men, never reproaching them.' (Redskin. ERE 5. 439).

'Nature confesses that she has given to the human race the tenderest hearts, by giving us the power to weep. This is the best part of us.' (Roman. Juvenal, xv. 131).

'They said that he had been the mildest and gentlest of the kings of the world.' (Anglo-Saxon. Praise of the hero in Beowulf, 3180).

'When thou cuttest down thine harvest... and hast forgot a sheaf., thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.' (Ancient Jewish. Deuteronomy 24:19).


8. The Law of Magnanimity

(a) 'There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.' (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii).

'Men always knew that when force and injury was offered they might be defenders of themselves; they knew that howsoever men may seek their own commodity, yet if this were done with injury unto others it was not to be suffered, but by all men and by all good means to be withstood.' (English. Hooker, Laws of Eccl. Polity, I. ix. 4).

'To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile.' (Ancient Egyptian. The Pharaoh Senusert III, cit. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p.161).

'They came to the fields of joy, the fresh turf of the Fortunate Woods and the dweUings of the Blessed . . . here was the company of those who had suffered wounds fighting for their fatherland.' (Roman. Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 638-9, 660).

'Courage has got to be harder, heart the stouter, spirit the sterner, as our strength weakens. Here lies our lord, cut to pieces, out best man in the dust. If anyone thinks of leaving this battle, he can howl forever.' (Anglo-Saxon. Maldon, 312).

'Praise and imitate that man to whom, while life is pleasing, death is not grievous.' (Stoic. Seneca, Ep. liv).

'The Master said. Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way.' (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13).

(b) 'Death is to be chosen before slavery and base deeds.' (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i, xxiii).

'Death is better for every man than life with shame.' (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2890).

'Nature and Reason command that nothing uncomely, nothing effeminate, nothing lascivious be done or thought.' (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv).

'We must not listen to those who advise us "being men to think human thoughts, and being mortal to think mortal thoughts," but must put on immortality as much as is possible and strain every nerve to live according to that best part of us, which, being small in bulk, yet much more in its power and honour surpasses all else.' (Ancient Greek. Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 1177B).

'The soul then ought to conduct the body, and the spirit of our minds the soul. This is therefore the first Law, whereby the highest power of the mind requireth obedience at the hands of all the rest.' (Hooker, op. cit. i. viii. 6).

'Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live, let him wait for his time ... let him patiently bear hard words, entirely abstaining from bodily pleasures.' (Ancient Indian. Laws of Manu. ERE ii. 98).

'He who is unmoved, who has restrained his senses ... is said to be devoted. As a flame in a windless place that flickers not, so is the devoted.' (Ancient Indian. Bhagavad gita. ERE ii 90).

(c) 'Is not the love of Wisdom a practice of death?' (Ancient Greek. Plato, Phaedo, 81 A).

'I know that I hung on the gallows for nine nights, wounded with the spear as a sacrifice to Odin, myself offered to Myself.' (Old Norse. Havamal, I. 10 in Corpus Poeticum Boreale; stanza 139 in Hildebrand's Lieder der Alteren Edda. 1922).

'Verily, verily I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it.' (Christian. John 12:24,25).


The evidence of recurrent patterns in human concerns has often been remarked in the history of Folk Tales in oral traditions which preceded their written transmission. A famous example of this is the story theme of rivalry between older and younger brothers.

The Brothers Grimm documented similarities in folk tales not only between Germany, England and Scandinavia but extending across Indo-European civilisations. For a thematically organised and comprehensive collection of folk tales, including Aesop’s Fables, from across the world:

Carl Jung claimed the existence of archetypal themes as part of a largely unconscious genetic inheritance.

Research at Durham University is using psychogenetic analysis to trace the nature and extent of continuities in folk tale transmission. It began with  two tales –The Wolf and the Kids (a wolf impersonates a nanny goat and eats her kids) and Little Red Riding Hood (a wolf eats a young girl by impersonating a granny). Phylogenetic analysis is a technique used by biologists grouping together closely-related organisms to form a tree of life diagram, mapping out the various branches of evolution from the earliest life forms. This has been applied to elemental variants of these stories to trace their dependence, variations and continuities across Africa, Asia and Europe over 2000 years.

The technique has now been extended to other stories and it is now claimed that there is evidence of recurrence dating back more than 5000 years. This is published in the Royal Society Open Science journal:

Given clear evidence of connections in folk tale transmission within and between different cultures and civilisations, it is no more or less surprising to find common elements in customs, law and morality.


Although not the first of its kind, this is the most comprehensive set of social guidelines from Babylon in the Ancient Near East (now Iran). It was found by archeologists, inscribed in cuneiform (chisel grooved format) Akkadian language on a 2 metre high basalt column. Ruling for nearly half a century, the code Hammurabi presents him as a mindful of the need for order and justice in society and his God-given responsibilities

A test of guilt:
2. If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the ++river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.

Accountability of judges
5. If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge's bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgement.

The cost of thieving
8. If any one steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or a goat, if it belong to a god or to the court, the thief shall pay thirtyfold therefor; if they belonged to a freed man of the king he shall pay tenfold; if the thief has nothing with which to pay he shall be put to death.
22. If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.

Responsibility for flood prevention
53. If any one be too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money shall replace the corn which he has caused to be ruined.

Woman’s rights
128. If a man take a woman to wife, but have no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him.
130. If a man violate the wife (betrothed or child-wife) of another man, who has never known a man, and still lives in her father's house, and sleep with her and be surprised, this man shall be put to death, but the wife is blameless.

Incest taboo
157. If any one be guilty of incest with his mother after his father, both shall be burned.

Retaliatory justice
196. If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.
200. If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out. 

Rates of remuneration for work by builders, doctors and vets are set out along with those for hiring animals or renting fields

From L W King’s 1910 translation:


These commands have had a central role in both Christians Jewish traditions. There are some internal variations within the traditions regarding their exact wording, numbering and interpretation. They are recorded in the Hebrew Bible aand Old Testament in Exodus 20: 3-17  and Deuteronomy 5: 7-21. Jewish tradition prefers to speak of ‘Words’ or ‘Proclamations’, rather than ‘Commandments’. For both Jews and Christians they are defining terms for the partnership/covenant relationship between the God on whom all life depends and Israel (however defined).

The text below is of Exodus 20 as translated in the New International Version. Moses the then leader of Israel on Sinai mountain has been given this message, now inscribed on stone tablets:

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear.

For ‘commandments’ in wider Jewish context see brief note:
For extensive scholarly context:


Ashoka was King/Emperor in India in 269 - 232  BCE. The territory he ruled extended over Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan and his trading and diplomatic links with the Mediterranean region were so extensive that many of his edicts were translated into Aramaic and Greek. The edicts themselves often carved on strategically located pillars and rocks; they referred to his change from tyrannical practice to a humanity which extended to animals as well as fellow human beings. The change is related to his espousal of a Buddhist world view.

Text of Rock Edict 13

(1) King Priyadarshi, Beloved of the Gods, conquered Kalinga, eight years after his consecration.  One hundred and fifty thousand persons were taken away captive, one hundred thousand were slain, and many times that number perished.

(2) After the Kalingas had been conquered, the Beloved of the Gods became intensely devoted to the study of Dharma, to the love of Dharma, and to the inculcation of Dharma.

(3) The Beloved of the Gods is now feeling remorse over the conquest of the Kalingas. Vanquishing an unconquered country involves slaughter, death, and deportation of people, and regret now weighs heavily on the Beloved of the Gods.

(4) A weightier reason for his remorse is that the victims of the injury, death, and deportation are the loved ones of Brahmins, Shramanas [Buddhist ascetics], followers of other religions, and householders, who all practise such virtues as obedience to superiors, parents, and teachers, and proper courtesy and firm devotion to friends, acquaintances, companions, and relatives, as well as to slaves and servants....  The fact that all the people share in the misfortune weighs heavily on the Beloved of the Gods.    

And there is no country, except that of the Yonas, [’Ionians’, Greeks] where these two groups are not found, namely Brahmins and Shramanas, nor any place where people are not devotees of one religion or another.

(5) Therefore, even if the numbers of the slain, or the dead, or the prisoners taken in the Kalinga war, had been a hundred or thousand times smaller, it would still have weighed heavily on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods.

(6) The Beloved of the Gods now thinks that any person who wrongs him should be forgiven for wrongs that can be forgiven.

(7) And the forest peoples who now live under his dominion, the Beloved of the Gods entreats and exhorts them too.  However, he explains to them that in spite of his repentance he still has the power to punish them, so as to induce them to desist from their wrongdoings and not be executed for their crimes.

(8) For all living creatures the Beloved of the Gods desires security, restraint, impartiality, and gentleness.

(9) Conquest through Dharma, is now considered by the Beloved of the Gods to be the best kind of conquest.  He has achieved this kind of moral victory not only here but also among the peoples beyond his borders, six hundred yojanas [3000 miles] away, where the Yona king named Antiyoka rules, and even beyond Antiyoka, in the realms of the four kings* Turamaya, Antikini, Maka, and Alikasundara;  and to the south, among the Cholas and Pandyas, as far as Tamraparni [Ceylon/Sri Lanka]....

(10) Even where the envoys of the Beloved of the Gods have not penetrated, people have heard about the practice of Dharma, and about his ordinances and instructions on Dharma, and they are conforming to Dharma and will continue to do so.

(11) Wherever conquest is achieved in this way, with Dharma, it produces satisfaction, among the victors and the vanquished alike.  However, such satisfaction is of little importance.  The Beloved of the Gods only esteems the happiness that ensues in the next world.

(12) This record relating to Dharma has been inscribed so that my sons and great-grandsons should not consider new conquests as worth achieving.  If they do make conquests, they should favour moderation and mild punishment.  And they should regard conquest by Dharma as the true conquest, because that is good here and hereafter.  Let their pleasure be pleasure in Dharma*, because that alone is good, here and hereafter.



Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10. Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11. (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14. (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15. (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16. (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17. (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21. (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22. Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23. (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26. (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27. (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28. Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29. (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.


This statement formulated by scholars headed by Hans Kung was formally approved by representatives of the world’s religious communities, including Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian at a meeting of the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The Parliament was convened on the 100th Anniversary of that held there in 1893. Such gatherings have subsequently been held every 5 or 6 years. They recognise the truth of the charge that religion is a major factor in the history of human division. In presenting a Global Ethic rooted inclusively in the world’s religions they intend to demonstrate that they have shared grounds for overcoming conflict.

“The world is in agony. The agony is so pervasive and urgent that we are compelled to name its manifestations so that the depth of this pain may be made clear.

Peace eludes us...the planet is being destroyed...neighbors live in fear...women and men are estranged from each other...children die!

This is abhorrent!

We condemn the abuses of Earth's ecosystems.

We condemn the poverty that stifles life's potential; the hunger that weakens the human body; the economic disparities that threaten so many families with ruin.

We condemn the social disarray of the nations; the disregard for justice which pushes citizens to the margin; the anarchy overtaking our communities; and the insane death of children from violence. In particular we condemn aggression and hatred in the name of religion.

But this agony need not be.

It need not be because the basis for an ethic already exists. This ethic offers the possibility of a better individual and global order, and leads individuals away from despair and societies away from chaos.

We are women and men who have embraced the precepts and practices of the world's religions:

We affirm that there is an irrevocable, unconditional norm for all areas of life, for families and communities, for races, nations, and religions. There already exist ancient guidelines for human behavior which are found in the teachings of the religions of the world and which are the condition for a sustainable world order.  

We Declare:

We are interdependent. Each of us depends on the well-being of the whole, and so we have respect for the community of living beings, for people, animals, and plants, and for the preservation of Earth, the air, water and soil.

We take individual responsibility for all we do. All our decisions, actions, and failures to act have consequences.

We must treat others as we wish others to treat us. We make a commitment to respect life and dignity, individuality and diversity, so that every person is treated humanely, without exception. We must have patience and acceptance. We must be able to forgive, learning form the past but never allowing ourselves to be enslaved by memories of hate. Opening our hearts to one another, we must sink our narrow differences for the cause of world community, practicing a culture of solidarity and relatedness.

We consider humankind a family. We must strive to be kind and generous. We must not live for ourselves alone, but should also serve others, never forgetting the children, the aged, the poor, the suffering, the disabled, the refugees and the lonely. No person should ever be considered or treated as a second-class citizen, or be exploited in any way whatsoever. There should be equal partnership between men and women. We must not commit any kind of sexual immorality. We must put behind us all forms of domination or abuse.

We commit ourselves to a culture of non-violence, respect, justice, and peace. We shall not oppress, injure, torture, or kill other human beings, forsaking violence as a means of settling differences.

We must strive for a just social and economic order, in which everyone has an equal chance to reach full potential as a human being. We must speak and act truthfully and with compassion, dealing fairly with all, and avoiding prejudice and hatred. We must not steal. We must move beyond the dominance of greed for power, prestige, money, and consumption to make a just and peaceful world.

Earth cannot be changed for the better unless the consciousness of individuals is changed first. We pledge to increase our awareness by disciplining our minds, by meditation, by prayer, or by positive thinking. Without risk and a readiness to sacrifice there can be no fundamental change in our situation. Therefore we commit ourselves to this global ethic, to understanding one another, and to socially beneficial, peace-fostering, and nature-friendly ways of life.

We invite all people, whether religious or not, to do the same.


This perspective on continuities and differences within global ethics starts from the biological givens of human inheritance.

“Moral Foundations Theory was created by a group of social and cultural psychologists to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too.

The five foundations for which we think the evidence is best are: 

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."

4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).  

We think there are several other very good candidates for "foundationhood," especially:

6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

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