Describe the major beliefs associated with Confucianism. In what ways does Daoism contrast with Confucianism? Describe the doctrine of Legalism. How does Legalism differ from both Daoism and Confucianism?
Confucianism arose from the teachings of the philosopher Confucius, who was born around 551 BC. He grew up poor, but became a teacher by talent and intellect. He founded a philosophical system that attempted to bring order to the chaotic, warring times that embroiled China during that period of its history. He knew something was needed to provide cohesion to China’s far-flung, disparate states. He developed a system of thought that emphasized harmony in dealing with others and respect for tradition and one’s ancestors, theorizing that by putting what he termed “superior” people – conscientious, hardworking people of high ethical and moral behavior – in positions of power, they would rule the state in the best interests of the populace. The people would recognize this “leadership by example” and willingly follow. Confucianism is not a religion, per se, as it addresses moral behavior from a largely secular perspective, with little reference to spirituality or a higher power.
The first principle of Confucianism is kindness. This principle should govern both the public and private life of a man. All his dealings with his family, friends, business associates, and others should be handled with care, concern, and empathy.
Confucius promoted the idea of the “superior man,” the ideal to which all men should aspire. He is unselfish, generous, and a servant to others, rather than seeking to be served (although he was reputed to be somewhat ill tempered and hard to please). He is loyal, and always seeking what is best for others, trusting that other “superior men” will do the same for him.
He taught that there were five relationships within society that must be properly ordered and characterized by respect for society to prosper. Three are familial -parents to ancestors, children to parents, and relations amongst siblings, with respect and deference to elders at every level- as the family is the foundational unit of society. One addresses friendships, still stressing the hierarchy of elder and junior, as age bestows wisdom and deserves respect. The last is the relationship of government to the people. The government must function in the best interest of the people, and the people must respect governmental authority. In this, it is somewhat similar to the ideas expressed thousands of years later and halfway around the world in the American Declaration of Independence: legitimate government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Peace will be achieved and maintained when society functions according to these principles. When everyone seeks harmony with his fellow man, peace perpetuates itself and society develops an appreciation of beauty and the creative arts.
Daoism (or Taoism) arose as a rival to Confucianism, rejecting Confucian emphasis on ritual and social hierarchy in favor of a more naturist and individualistic expression of harmonious relations with people and the world. Daoists shun the idea of changing society and seek individual tranquility through personal withdrawal and meditation. Daoism addresses spirituality, the nature of the universe, and how individuals relate and connect to this universal spirit, more so than the primarily humanist views of Confucianism.
Legalism came to prominence with the Qin Dynasty, and was more of a political/administrative philosophy than of religion and morality. Its adherents considered their views a more realistic assessment of human nature and how to keep the peace than Confucianism. As the name implies, it was based on rules, laws, and authoritative force to instruct the people how to behave, taking a dim view of human nature and the likelihood of voluntary compliance. Its three basic tenets were authority, methodology, and the rule of law. Obedience to the law was rewarded and violations were punished, often severely, and many times the whole family was subject to penalty for the transgressions of its members. By this means, the Qin did away with the feudal system that had ruled China for centuries and established a unified, centralized, bureaucratic state divided into thirty-six provinces. Although the sometimes-Draconian laws did not win the Legalists popularity –indeed, its two greatest champions were murdered at court by rivals- it established order and ended the chaos of the Period of Warring States, and brought real cultural and political unity to China for the first time. One of its greatest mandates was a standardized script for writing that largely survives today. While people still spoke different languages, they adapted to the common script, making cross-language written communication much easier.
Commentary on Selected Analects of Confucius The Master said, "Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?”
1. I think this is saying it is a good thing to be always learning new things. If you stop learning, you stop growing, and if you stop growing, you start dying.
2. Obviously, I agree with this proverb. That’s why I’m taking this class, just for fun, just for the enjoyment of learning more about a subject that interests me.
3. The application I would make in my own life is examining whether I want to apply this philosophy to pursuing a master’s degree. Do I have the perseverance to stick it out, and will I be able to apply it to my life by becoming an instructor?
The Master said, "This man seldom speaks; when he does, he is sure to hit the point."
1. I think this means the person he is describing doesn’t run on at the mouth, filling the air with useless words. He is not too fond of the sound of his own voice, the type of person who is often wrong, but never in doubt. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s worth hearing.
2. Yes, I agree with this proverb. I once knew a guy who simply had to dominate the conversation. No matter what we were talking about, he had done it before and was an expert. We figured either he had held over a thousand jobs and spent 15 minutes at each one, or he was 147 years old.
3. I am extremely introverted, and do not talk very much (hard to believe, I know, given how wordy I am in writing). This often frustrates my wife, who is very much an extrovert and loves banter. I like to think before I speak, and I write, read, edit, and rewrite my answers in this class many times before posting them. If I feel I can’t add something meaningful to the conversation, I won’t add anything at all. When I don’t know what to say, I don’t say it.
“Better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln
“It takes a long time to say anything in old Entish, and we never say anything that isn’t worth taking a long time to say.” – Treebeard
The Master said, "The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions."
1. This reminds me of the saying in business, “Under-promise and over-deliver,” and many other clichés, like “actions speak louder than words,” and “let your actions speak for themselves.” Nevertheless, clichés don’t get to be clichés by being wrong. Don’t brag about what you can do, just do it, and do it well, then let other people brag on you.
2. By now, it should be obvious; I didn’t pick any proverbs I disagreed with. I saw a few I didn’t particularly ascribe to, but none I vehemently opposed.
3. Like the previous proverb, grandiose, voluminous speeches are not indicative of substance. At the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Edward Everett spoke for two hours before Lincoln spoke for two minutes. However, while many can recite the Gettysburg Address, hardly anyone even knows who Edward Everett was. Everyone has listened to politicians spout lofty but empty promises, and inspiring but totally unrealistic predictions “If I am elected…” If you talk a big game about being a leader, but you turn around and no one is following, guess what? A leader doesn’t say, “Go there and do that.” A leader simply says, “Follow me,” and does what needs to be done.
“Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” – James A. Baldwin