Confucius

Confucius

Was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. His followers competed successfully with many other schools during the Hundred Schools of Thought era only to be suppressed in favor of the Legalists during the Qin Dynasty. Following the victory of Han over Chu after the collapse of Qin, Confucius’ thoughts received official sanction and were further developed into a system known in the West as Confucianism.

The moment of Kong Zi’s birth (Confucius) on the historical scene in the late 6th century BC, meant the onset of a philosophical tradition that dominated the Chinese culture for the next hundreds of years and had an overwhelming influence on all the Chinese departments of thinking from spirituality and ethics to medicine and science.

The Master (Tzu) hadn’t left us any written works, but his ideas, comments and the interpretations made to the works that constituted the heritage of the ancient Chinese culture (The Book of Changes, The Book of Poetry, The Book of Documents, The Book of Rituals, The Book of Music and the Annals of Spring and Autumn) were compiled by his disciples in 20 books. Trying to understand Confucius may be hampered by the lack of proper documents, as well as by the clutter of legends and traditions surrounding his personality, some exalted and some annoying.

He may have had an aristocratic ascendancy, but according to various sources, he hasn’t lived a plentiful life, but on the contrary, thing which led him to empathize with the ordinary people and to disregard the nobles that were interested only in maintaining the power, which was essentially of military origin. Confucius wasn’t a pacifist, however. He believed that there were times in which moral people needed to take action in order not to be enslaved, but not by using force, as by using a sense of justice and power. Basically, he believed that an army can’t fight well enough if the soldiers do not believe in the rightness of the cause. In addition, he often claimed that the origin doesn’t matter as much as the attitude and behavior, so that anyone could aspire to become a “chiin tzu” (gentleman).

Another important concept in the Asian philosophy is “tao”, the way, having no mystical overtones, however. Tao includes an individual code of ethics on the one hand and on the other hand, the government to watch over the welfare of every human being. Rejecting loyalty towards the nobles, Confucius proposes the loyalty to the principles. Despite the absence of a dogma, many Confucians ended their lives as martyrs, trying to defend the way taught by their master by criticizing the rulers in the name of the greater good. The good leaders and top officials are the wise ones, regardless of their social background. Confucius asks his disciples to defend the people, to help them, to instruct them. The people should act according to the liability and responsibilities that the social functions involve.

What is remarkable regarding the Confucian philosophy is the lack of religious mysticism, which is replaced by a pragmatic humanism. Confucius didn’t claim to own any absolute truth, but rather he insisted upon the aspiring to it by the methods of observation and analysis. The omniscience and omnipotence of the universe are replaced by the wealth of experience, the selection of good and its sequel to achieve the freedom and happiness that the human nature tends towards.

But how is this human nature? In Confucius’s vision it is neither good nor bad. Firstly, Confucius advocates for human equality. Secondly, he considers that people desire happiness, which often remains only at the level of a desideratum. If happiness is good and man is a social being, it means that if everyone would think about the welfare of the whole, there are more likely chances to achieve a state of good. In his conception, when the truly virtuous man seeks success, he thinks about the other’s success as well. In order to reach this social harmony, education is absolutely necessary and it must be widespread so that the most prudent can stand in leadership positions at the government of the country. His teachings had a great impact, because almost half of his disciples were able to obtain important positions in the state.

But the extent of his legacy looms after his death, when his doctrine is gradually integrated into the imperial ideology. Even some of the communist revolutionaries claim his importance to the revolutionary tradition. In the West, his impact was greater than we can imagine, because he became an iconic figure during the Enlightenment. If we were to look for the secret of his magnetism, most likely it would be his insistence on the primacy of the human values. “Wisdom means to understand the others, virtue means to love them.”

Trusting in the power of thought and morality, Confucius believed that humanity can only find its happiness in a cooperative community of free people. But freedom is gained through reason, critical thinking and acting according to principles that can serve both the individual and the community. The dogmas restrict the truth. “Unless one always wonders: How can I act right?, then I do not know what sense does he have”, said Confucius.

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A painting of Confucius

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