Overlapping Consensus on Behaviour

There is commonality in what people regard as acceptable behaviour, despite their different beliefs and religions: what John Rawls called their “comprehensive moral conceptions” in his book Political Liberalism.[1]  As seen previously, the Golden Rule is consistent with all religions ( and most philosophies (4.2.3), so it can form the nucleus of the “social” aspect of what Rawls referred to as an “overlapping consensus” on how to behave, as illustrated:

This diagram illustrates that many “comprehensive moral conceptions”, such as religions, can be compatible with a consensus on one standard of socially-acceptable behaviour – which includes the Golden Rule and many, but not all, agreed human rights.  Many aspects of religion do not affect people’s behaviour towards others.

Compliance with the Golden Rule is at the heart of this concept of acceptable behaviour.  In the negative form stated by Karen Armstrong, the Golden Rule requires tolerance – and sympathy is not required or assumed:

“Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.”

This formulation only requires a minimum level of empathy for another human being.  It is sufficient to avoid friction and violence, even where people don’t want to have much interaction with members of other communities – though people may have higher expectations from those they know well (4.3.2).



[1] In his book Political Liberalism, John Rawls described a set of beliefs as a “comprehensive moral conception” (p. 13).  Dr. Jan Garrett wrote a short overview of Rawls’s thinking, entitled Rawls’ Mature Theory of Social Justice, which was available in January 2019 at http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/ethics/matrawls.htm.

This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4421.htm