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 Confucianism


          China, was Confucius (551bc-479bc). Born in 551 b.c. when Confucius was twenty-one years old he opened a school for sons of noblemen. He did this at great personal sacrifice: he was a descendant of a Shang king and is said to have been Minister of Justice in his native state of Lu. Rather than in the government, of which the disapproved, he risked his career and possibly his life in order to teach.
           He attracted a number of pupils or disciples, many of whom accompanied him on his journeys. Tradition says there were thousand of them. Confucius instructed them in six arts: rites, music, archery, chariots driving, and writing and mathematics. He taught modesty and persistence in learning. He himself was prepared to teach and learn from, anyone. He told his disciples: To learn and at due times to repeat what one has learnt, is not that after all a pleasure? ’’ And also: he, who learns but does not think, is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.
           Confucius was the founder of a school of thought which over others in the later centuries and became official doctrine. He built up a body of teaching based on tradition which was set down in writing by his disciples in a work known as the Analects-or Select sayings-of Confucius .His point of view was not original; it was the outlook typical of the feudal times of Chou. He deplored the disorder and unrest which rent society of his day and he idealized the early Chou times which he sought to restore, believing them to be times of order and prosperity, when each man knew his place in the unified kingdom of Son of Heaven.
           Confucius looked back with respect to the cult to the cult of Heaven and ancestor worship, to old standards and traditions. The myth of his golden age in China’s past colored the ideology of reformers and rebels down to the nineteen century.
Confucius was mainly concerned with social relations, with the orderly conduct of human affairs, not with speculation about supernatural being or an afterlife. He emphasized the duties to the living rather than to the dead, advocating the doctrine of benevolence or love of one’s fellow men.        

 He taught "Do not do to others what you could not want to done to yourself, and Achieve for others what you want to achieve for yourself". Another aspect of this teaching was the emphasis on strict rules of behavior. Confucius held the social harmony could be achieved by observance which governed the relationship of people in different strata of society .Particularly important were the rules relating to the behavior of inferiors to superiors. Accepting the current patriarchal view of the family, considered the main pillar of society. Confucius urged the observance of family tie in a hierarchy of unconditional obedience: son to father: younger to elder brother; wife to husband. The relation of subject to ruler was that of son to father-absolute obedience, just as the ruler, the ruler, the Son of Heaven, owned obedience to Heaven. Friends were bound like brothers, by obligations, the younger to the older.
           Family bounds and social order have been reinforced in China since ancient times by various systems of collective, whereby the family was held responsible for crimes committed by an individual member. Similarly, the crimes of family were visited upon neighboring, house-holds in the community.
           Women enjoyed but a meager share of the recommended Confucian benevolence. The traditional Chinese family, which sustained the individual in times of social distress and personal disaster and suffered vicarious punishment on his account, consisted of grandparents, parents, grandchildren and servants. In this extended family of three generations, authority resided with the aged and with the men folk. Sons had equal rights in the inheritance of property. Marriage was a matter of family arrangement, not of individual love. Its purpose was the survival of the family, the continuation of the family name. On marriage the young wife left her own kin and lived with her husband and parent-in-law, to whom she was bound even in the case of the premature death of her husband.        

Confucius asserted that gentlemen need not necessarily be a person of good birth, but one whose conduct was noble, unselfish and considerate. No man could be considered a gentleman on grounds of birth alone, it was a matter of conduct and character.
           In addition Confucius was the first person in China to extend education beyond the ranks of the aristocracy. He accepted pupils regardless of class. Men of humble origin became his students. He taught them all court etiquette- the ritual that was first used in sacrifices and then extended to cover every sort of ceremony. This ritual he had to be necessary for men as social beings. It disciplined the emotions and strengthens the character, imposed controlled reactions and was conductive to social stability.
           According to tradition Confucius spent the last years of his life editing and compiling books which came to be known as the Classics. Much of the material in these works was old in his time, and it is not possible to say how much they owe to the Master himself. They are the Book of Songs; the Book of history; The Spring and Autumn Annals, the Book of Rites; the Book of Changes; the Book of music including the Analects, were not only read but learnt by heart by scholars in later centuries. Their emphasis on loyalty to authority made a special appeal to ruler, and Confucianism later was adopted as the orthodox doctrine of state.

 

 Confucius and Plato


      What is the best way to create a good society? History offers many questions. Hammurabi of Babylon, as we saw, believed in harsh laws, while Jesus of Nazareth saw love as the key. Most of us have idea that fall somewhere in between. Given the many different answers to these basic questions, it is striking how similar were many ideas of the ancient Chinese sage Confucius (551-479b.c.e) and famous Greek philosopher Plato (427-347b.c.e). Both believed that a good society or state had to be led by men with superior virtue and wisdom. Both generally distrusted laws because they had people devious because they fostered greed. Neither favored democratic self-government, but both believed in existence of absolute moral truth and in the possibility that humans could live in peace and harmony. Both focused attention on the individual, but neither believed in “individual right”.
          Before we explain these similarities by saying that “great minds think alike”, we should note several important differences between these two philosophers. While both believed that only those who were already virtuous could create a well-ordered, peaceful political community and state, Confucius and his followers were convinced that human beings were basically good, or could be nurtured to be so. But Plato begged to differ; he thought most people were far too easily deceived by tyrants or greed, either by their carefully educated “better” or by laws. Naturally, these differing views of human nature resulted in different versions of ideal government. Confucius emphasized human behavior of a carefully educated ruling class. It might be said that Confucius was more interested in the relationship of individuals within a community, while Plato was more interested in universal truth. The views of each have been wildly studied and have affected the lives of millions over the centuries. Yet their insights, however universal in nature, also reflect the unique features of the world in which each lived.
          Confucius was the son of a minor nobleman during the “Period of Warring State” in ancient Chinese history. From about 1050 to 770 B.C. the Zhou dynasty of ruler held together the various Chinese states using a feudal system of government in which loyalty to the ruling family was based on marriage alliances and other personal contracts between various noble families and the ruler. This delicate system of mutual dependence and harmony had collapsed by Confucius’s day, and he took it as his mission to show people how it –and political unity-could be restored. Confucius married at the age of nineteen and had three children,  As a young man, Confucius took a minor administrative position with a noble family in his home state of Lu and later worked intermittently for the ruler of and educates himself in the noble arts of ritual, music, archery, charioteer, calligraphy, and arithmetic. When Confucius realized that the ruler of Lu was more interested in dancing girls than in the serious business of governing, he resigned his official and spent the rest of his life as teacher, trying unsuccessfully to find another ruler who would appreciate his advice. He died at the age of seventy-three, after transmitting to many students the message past were resorted. During the next two generations, his disciples compiled his teachings in a book known as the Analects. No books wrote a recent translator, “in the entire history of the world , over a longer period of time, a greater influence Confucian ideas are contained in works written by his little volume”. Other Confucian is contained in works written by his students and followers, including The Doctrine of the Mean, The Great Learning and Mencius.
          Confucius was physically strong and a good hunter and sportsman who spend much of his life traveling at a time when this required considerable stamina. He taught his followers that civilization depends on virtue, and especially on those virtues often “humanity” (Ren, translated as human-heartedness, love or benevolence) and “propriety” or “correct behavior” (li). In its simplest form, Ren means to treat others with humanness and respect, as you would like to be treated. (There are three statements of the Golden Rule in the Analects). A person with Ren would show his or her respect for others by proper behavior or civility. Li is not mindless bowing to others but a whole set of customs that bring order to our lives and help us show our love for our fellow humans. The formal aspects of Confucian etiquette are important ways to convey our attitudes. “Authority without generosity, ceremony without reverence, mourning without grief –these I can not bear to contemplate” Confucius said. A good society would exist if people were honest with themselves and caring towards each other.
          While Confucius believes that all could develop through education the virtue of Ren and Li, he generally described these as the qualities of a gentleman. Although Confucius understood that most leaders of society would be aristocrats, he didn’t believe that only the members of the upper classes were, or could be, virtuous. With the proper education, anyone –providing he was male-could develop the wisdom of a true leader or sage.
          To influence people, human relationship-especially those within the family-were more important than laws. Any summary of the ideas of Children will, mention the importance the duties towards their parents and family. It will also mentioned the importance of the Five Relationships described in the Doctrine of the Mean, those between ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, older and younger brother, and friends. If all involved in these relationships behaved properly and with full human respect towards the other party, society would be orderly. An orderly society is well-governed one, but here the knowledge, sincerity, and wisdom of the ruler was as important as his behaviors. This is made clear in a passage from The Great Learning, which points out those ancient rulers, wishing to “order well” their states, had to first “regular” their families. This required that they first cultivate their personal lives. They did this by being sincere and try to extend their knowledge through the investigation of things.  Things were investigated. Their knowledge was extended, their wills were made sincere, and their personal lives were improved. This led to the proper regulation of their families and when the family was properly regulated, the state was in order and there was pace in the world.

          The Chinese believed that there was a moral order in the universe. A good leader, reflecting this moral order by living a just and proper life himself, would more easily win the trust of subjects. If his life were balanced and harmonious, there would be harmonious in the country. All this did not mean that a good ruler could ignore the crops and disband the army; it simply meant that these things were not enough-the successful ruler also had to set a moral example that others were able to imitate. Confucius’ followers Mencius put it bluntly in his advice to ruler who asked him how to govern:
           “You’d better get back to the basic. If mulberry trees are planted on plots of one acre, people in their fifties can wear silk. If you don’t pull man away for battle during the breeding times of your livestock, people in their seventies can eat meat. Pay careful attention to education, teaching the Justice of filial piety and fraternity, and the grey-haired will not be seen in the streets carrying heavy burdens on their back.”
           The emphasis by Confucius on the important of human relationship became popular in part because Chinese society Already put much emphasis on the family. Early Chinese religious, like that in many other early human societies, involved intense respect for and veneration of one’s ancestors. Within three centuries of his death, Confucius’ ideas, modified to stress the importance of loyal subjects and to deemphasize such things as the moral duty of intellectuals to criticize unjust rulers, and become the ruling philosophy of the Han dynasty. And the moral gentleman of Confucius became the bureaucrats of the Chinese state for the next sixteen centuries. Bureaucrat tend to value ruler, and this is why many people –in China and elsewhere-came to associate li with ritual for its own sake, in stead of seeing it as manifestation of Ren. After several centuries of what came to be called State Confucians, no gentleman would speak as bluntly to rulers as Mencius had done. When the ideas of creative thinkers become the official policy of a government, they became more influential because they are backed by state power. However, they can also lose some of their original “edge”.
           Whether Plato’s ideas on government have been misinterpreted in the centuries since his death is harder to determine, if only because everything written by this “father of western philosophy” has been the subject of extensive discussion and debate. Yet Plato understands of human nature, and consequently of the ideal state, was as influenced by the events in fifth century Athens as Confucius’s ideas were by the disorder of the Warring states periods in China.
           Like Confucius, Plato was born into an aristocratic family. His father claimed descent from the last of the kings of Athens and his mother was related to the sixth-century leader Solon, who established some of the first democratic institutions in the city. Plato grew up during the Peloponnesian War, which saw the Athenians replace their democratic government with an oligarchic (rule by a group) one known as the “Thirty Tyrants”. These were in turn overthrown by democratic government, however, fearful of internal enemies after Athenian defeat, put Plato’s teacher, Socrates, to death in 399 B.C.E for the “corrupt the youth” that is, asking too many questions. Both by family background and by virtue of his experiences as a young man, Plato was familiar with different types of government. Growing up in such a troubled time, it is perhaps not surprising that he devoted much of his life-and a major book, the republic-to trying to determine the best form of government.

           Also like his Chinese counterpart, Plato spent time traveling but most of his life teaching. While in his twenties, he traveled to Egypt, Italy, and Sicily. In two visits to the city of Syracuase in Sicily in the 360s, Plato tried unsuccessfully to tutor the ruler, Dionysus II, in hopes that he would become the ideal “philosopher-king” Plato described in the republic. Plato had already purchased land near Athens and established a school, the Academy, where he taught young men his principle of ethics and government, “to educate citizens for the statesmanship”. This school, which some call the first university, remained in existence for nearly 900 years. During his long life, Plato wrote many philosophical dialogues, lengthy written conversation in which Plato’s ideas on the nature of morality, truth, ,beauty, and justice are put in the mouth of his teacher, Socrates, The republic, one of the virtue and education of the people who were to govern it , led by a philosopher-king.
          Before we can understand why Plato thought that philosophers-literally “lovers of wisdom”-made the best rulers, we need to appreciate his belief that society or the state should be organized to reflect our human nature. In the first place, like most thoughtful Creeks of this period, Plato believed that only in the city state, or polis, could a human being find fulfillment. Second, Plato believed that each human soul consisted of three parts, a rational part, a part containing our desires for pleasure and wealth, and a part he called the spirited part which contained a person’s love of honor and desire for victory. Each part of the soul then corresponded to one of three social classes in Plato’s political community. The spirited part was best be represented by the military class, or soldiers. The general population of “producers” or craftsman and merchants, represented the desire and appetites, and the rational part of soul was most active in the ruling class of “guardians”. In a harmonious state, just as in a harmonious individual, all of the parts must work together. For this to happen in a well-governed state, the rational part must control the other two.
           Plato’s guardians excel in wisdom. In that respect, they are like the group that Confucius called gentlemen. Yet they are different from the ruling class in China in at least one important respect. They understand ultimate or universal Truth (the idea of the Good) in a way that others cannot, even if the others are educated. To make this point, Plato wrote an allegory of a cave. In the republic, Plato asks us to imagine a cave in which prisoners are chained, from the neck down, against a wall facing the rear of the cave. Behind them is a fire and between the fire and prisoners is a path along which the guards walk back and forth, carrying cutouts of animals and people; some guards are talking as they do this. The prisoners, who the figures cast on the rear wall and mistake this for reality. If one of the prisoners was freed and, he would see the sun, something more “real” than fire because it is the source of the fire. If that prisoner, once he adjusted to the light and overcame his bewilderment, were sent back into the cave to tell the other prisoners that they were mistaking shadows of reality, they would not believe him; in fact, says Plato, they would probably try to kill him for telling such tall tales, disrupting their lives and challenging their accustomed beliefs.
           In this allegory, the images on the rear wall of the cave represent what most human talk to be truth or reality: talking, moving shadows. The sun represents ultimate Truth or the ultimate Good. The source of all lesser “ truth” In Plato’s ideal state, the ruling class they were the only ones who had seen the sun or , as Plato put it, they “ had knowledge” while others “ had belief”. Their natures, in which the rational part of the soul dominated, meant that they were “made to practice philosophy and be political leaders, while other shouldn’t engage in philosophy and should follow a leader’’. The guardian class was also put in control of the state in Plato’s republic because they had a specialized education and social life which prepared them for their leadership role. Plato’s instruction for the education of his guardians goes far beyond anything that Confucius had in mind for his gentlemen.
          Members of Plato’s guardian class had to be reliable, courageous, and good looking (since this was a reflection of inner worth). They would be raised in an environment in which women were equal to men, even to the point of fighting on the battlefield when necessary. Men and women would share wives, husbands, and property, but guardians could mate only with other members of their class. That way, only “outstanding” children would be produced. Otherwise Plato wrote “our breed of guardians will become tainted”. It was also permissible for members of the guardian class to tell “helpful lies” to the lesser members of the community if this was necessary for the good of the community, for example, to get people to fight foreigners. The education of guardians would focus on physical training and on the liberal and fine arts, including music and math. They were to avoid literature, drama, and poetry which contained fantasies. Guardians had to be trained in dialectic and had to learn that five senses were unreliable, and that all real truth was universal in nature and, thus, beyond the senses. The lifestyle and education of this group was justified if we understand that rulers really were different from other people.

          Since they really did like Truth and justice, philosopher-kings would behave justly. It has not been an altogether convincing defense. On the other hand, we should remember that Plato was describing an ideal, or utopian, state and was doing this as a way of highlighting for his readers the importance of reason. It is also true that Plato did modify some of his views later in life, when he wrote the “statesman” and the “laws”. In these works, he decided that the views in the republic were too utopian. In the “laws”, he suggested that it was better for people to rely on laws than on the moral leadership of a guardian class. The philosopher-king became a legislator who enforced numerous rules governing in detail the lives of citizens.  The fact that the view of each off these ancient thinkers have been both disputed and misunderstood by later ages- in more ways than we can discuss here-is itself a tribute to their profound impact on succeeding centuries . Whatever else we might say about them, they did raise a standard of human perfectibility for their respective societies, and they did so by challenging the common-sense notion that the things had to be the way they always had been or had appeared to be. Each argued that life could be better, both more reasonable and more moral, if we trusted our senses less ( Plato) and really believed in the human capacity for love( Confucius). There was a significant difference, however, in how human improvement was to be achieved. Confucius had faith that all man and woman could behave humanely .

 
 

 

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