Confucius was a prominent ancient Chinese philosopher, thinker, sage, and founder of the well-known philosophical system, Confucianism. His teaching has become a significant factor of the spiritual and political development of China and East Asia. Among all the thinkers of the ancient world, he is deservedly considered the most prominent one. The natural human need for happiness is the basis of the philosopher’s teachings. Moreover, in his works, the ancient Chinese sage considered the life issues, well-being, and ethics. The paper thoroughly examines the life and work of the famous thinker, who has developed the own philosophical system and paid particular attention to the questions concerning the world structure and a fair social order in the global society.
Today, Confucius is well-known for founding the religion, which has become the basis of public administration, culture, and politics of the large country of China. All his works are based on morality, ethics, and life principles of the human interaction with one another. He has been the first politician and teacher to introduce the idea of building a highly moral and harmonious society. Since his teaching found a broad response and acclamation in the public, it had been accepted as an ideological norm at the state level. His doctrines have been popular for centuries. Moreover, every modern person can easily understand Confucius’s lessons. Therefore, they continue to inspire the philosopher’s adherents and the new generation so effectively. Bell mentions that even today, intellectuals and policymakers turn to Confucianism while searching for a perfect way of managing the political and social predicament (10).
Confucius was born and lived in the era of great upheaval when China suffered a severe crisis. The power of the ruler had weakened, and the patriarchal and tribal foundations broke down. It was the turbulent time for the Chinese because the ancestral society was replaced by a power based on the bureaucracy. The collapse of the old order gave rise to the chaos. Confucius idealized ancient traditions and urged to follow the wisdom of humanity and the noble men of the past. In order to protect the public from the upheavals, the philosopher developed a doctrine that sanctified the social order in the society. In his teaching, the sage called for overcoming the social evil and identifying its causes, as well as finding means of achieving harmony and happiness in the society with the focus on rationalism. The doctrine of Confucius was religious in its nature. It argued that all social institutions were sanctified by the heaven pointing out to the correct way of life. Confucius wanted individuals to follow the ancient traditions. It was the only thing that he could do to ensure order in the family and the state.
Confucius was born with boundless receptivity to learning. The awakened mind forced him to read and, most importantly, absorb all the knowledge from the classical books of that period. The philosopher wanted his students to be useful to the state and society; therefore, he taught them various aspects that strengthened their position in the Chinese canons. With time, the fame of Confucius spread beyond the neighboring kingdoms; he even served as the Minister of Justice. It was the most crucial position in the state of that time (Huang 12). At an early age, the philosopher was distinguished for his natural inclinations to philosophy. Since childhood, he participated in the sacred ceremonies and repeated rituals, although he might not understand everything. These practices did not surprise those around. The interaction with the sages and elders was the only thing that interested the future philosopher.
After graduation, Confucius passed difficult exams with an outstanding result. At a young age, the cultural community marked the thinker for his indisputable excellence and superiority. The noble ruler was once invited to visit the Chinese capital. It was one of the highlights of his life. The journey allowed Confucius to accept himself the heir and keeper of the ancient tradition. Consequently, he decided to create a school based on traditional teachings, in which people could learn the laws of the world and discover own capabilities. The philosopher wanted to see his students become holistic and harmonious individuals who would benefit the state and society. Therefore, he taught them various subjects, based on different canons. While teaching, Confucius was simple and solid.
The Chinese philosopher significantly contributed to the development of the native land; as a result, the neighboring countries started to fear the state, which was successfully developing owing to the efforts of one person. Since the knowledge and virtue were inseparable for Confucius, living in accordance with the own philosophical convictions was an integral part of his teaching. For the thinker, philosophy was not a set of ideas exhibited for human understanding, but a holistic system of commandments to be implemented in one’s behavior. Recognition of the heaven’s will, free adherence to the heart’s desires, and compliance with the rules of conduct, which he considered sacred and heavenly, became the moral landmark of the entire Chinese culture.
People can easily associate Confucius’s philosophy with human destiny. Confucius particularly emphasized the humanism, moral duty, love, and knowledge of what it meant to be a noble man, who was committed to the common good, and what it meant to be a mean man who was looking only for own comfort and benefit (Chen 137).
In addition, Confucius was the founder of Confucianism as the most prominent intellectual and spiritual tradition in the Asian history (Rosenlee 2). The philosopher has developed a unique ethical-political and religious-philosophical doctrine of the moral and human behavior based on the morality and social order. Like some other Eastern religions, Confucianism is often interpreted as a way of life, which has supported the religious unity of the Chinese people for centuries and contributed to their ethnic consolidation. While the conception of a higher spiritual being – God is present in most religions, it is impossible to reveal this concept in Confucianism since there is no belief in any divine creation. The philosopher’s ideas have had a very great impact on the lives and minds of the ethnic group, as well as shaped people’s behavior and ways of thinking. According to Bevir, any society can easily practice this philosophy (272)
The main aim of Confucius was to pass the messages, which embodied the heaven’s will. From the very beginning, Confucianism has had a negative attitude toward various forms of mysticism; it emphasized that people should worry about the earthly and not heavenly issues. In his philosophy, Confucius adopted the primitive beliefs, namely the cult of the earth, dead legendary ancestors, and the veneration of the supreme deity. In the Chinese culture, Confucius tried to preserve the ancient wisdom. He sought to restore the lost prestige of the monarchy, improve the morals of the people, and make them happy. The philosopher believed that the ancient sages created the state to safeguard the interests of each citizen. In general, these teachings were ethical and philosophical, rather than religious ones. By underscoring ancient traditions and seeking to influence the contemporary beliefs, Confucius developed a conception of an ideal man with a sense of duty, humanity, respect, humility, justice, and temperance. By preaching the perfect relationship between people, the family and the state, the thinker advocated a clear hierarchical distribution of responsibilities among all members of the society.
Confucianism is based on the five virtues, namely wisdom, humanity, loyalty, respect for elders, and courage. Their recognition means the integrity and deep respect for those around. Self-knowledge must contribute to the social order, based on the reason that promotes not only self-improvement but also the realization of the purpose for the benefit of all people. Unlike many other religions, Confucianism is characterized by the lack of priests and mystical elements. Instead, it promotes the strict enforcement of the traditional rites. The basis of the worship is to honor ancestors in each family through sacrifices and rituals.
Since 140 BC, Confucianism has become the official Chinese ideology (Warher 70). Every official has enriched the knowledge with the teachings of Confucius. The norms and values have been recognized and transformed into a genuine national symbol that has gradually led to the fact that every Chinese needs to be a Confucian. However, it has not prevented the development of other religions in the country. In order to achieve perfection, a balance in the activities is required. The adaptation to life conditions and obedience to the government’s authority are also essential. Justice and legislation are the results of the long-term development of thinking and practice. Only a few are capable of self-sacrifice while the majority of people have to be kept within the law. Confucianism is a spiritual study of human perfection. Unlike most religions, the doctrine contains no information regarding the ultimate meaning of the earth’s history, the end of the world, and its regeneration. The prominent Chinese thinkers have been always interested in the inner human nature.
In general, the study of Confucianism is multifaceted. It covers the conceptions of a human being, society, state, and their relationships. Everyone must fulfill his or her social functions. Integrity and human morality are reflected in the human efforts to follow the social rules and guidelines. A noble man possesses such qualities as modesty, justice, temperance, dignity, selflessness, love for others, sense of duty due to knowledge and principles, decency, and respect. An individual must behave respectfully, be committed to those around, and treat them fairly. While a mean man cares about the profit, a superior man thinks of responsibility. The concept of the duty includes the human desire to get knowledge, learn, and comprehend the wisdom of the ancient people. Therefore, every person has to honor deceased ancestors and elders. The real man is always honest, sincere, single-hearted, and fearless. In addition, he or she is indifferent to wealth, comfort, and material benefits.
The ideal of a noble man must be compulsory, especially for the governor. The relationship between the ruler and his subordinates should follow the example of the father-and-son relationships. The governor takes care of the subordinates, and as a parent, educates them. The highest goal is to serve people and protect their interests. Every ruler has to be truthful, love people, save money, and follow the traditions. The governor has a right to rule only if he adheres to the norms of charity. If the ruler breaks these rules, people can easily overthrow him by force.
Confucianism supports the immutable social order and hierarchical structure of the society. According to this ancient philosophical school, the government’s role is to reach harmony in the society (Nasu and Saul 260). According to Confucius, the social status of a human and his or her destiny are determined by the heaven and cannot be changed. Every person has to know the own place in the community, and this social order must remain unchanged. Virtue and nobility, not the wealth and nobility, determine a person’s status in the society.
Confucius had a charming and impressive personality. The philosopher was not a strict ascetic; on the contrary, he claimed that everything should be moderate and consistent. Moreover, the thinker deeply believed in the value of the proper structure of society. Therefore, all his teachings were focused on how people can achieve harmonious relations with the outside world (Masashi 100). Confucius never taught faith in God because he thought it was impossible to comprehend Him. He also found it unnecessary to deal with the issues relating to the other world and afterlife. The philosopher believed that anyone could live like a noble man. People always honored Confucius as a deity. Numerous rituals with sacrifices, religious dances and prayers were dedicated to the famous thinker. According to Littlejohn, every ritual has brought the meaningful experience that is so valued by the Confucians (36).
Belief in the supernatural is present in all the arguments made by Confucius about the nature, society, and human being. His religious-philosophical concept has a clear social focus; it underscores the relationship between the people, state, and community. The philosopher regarded the contemporary social structure as intact, and the existing social system as perfect. A person has to recognize and accept the existing system, as well as strictly comply with its orders. The state, which provides these conditions, succeeds. Religion has to approve and supports this fact. Confucius does not mind waging a war to solve international problems but offers an alternative. He wanted to help the opposing countries with his teachings that could help bring harmony and exhaust the conflict.
For a long time, Confucianism has shaped the minds and feelings of the Chinese nation and influenced people’s beliefs, psychology, behavior, thinking, and lifestyle. In some ways, the ethical and philosophical doctrine developed by the ancient thinker even surpasses some of the main world religions. Confucianism reflects the national character. The country has formed a rational outlook, which is based on the recognition of the unity of the social and natural order. In the Chinese empire, the ethical system has played a role of the main religion. Later, it has developed to the official state ideology.
Confucianism has become more than just a religion. Today, it is also the policy, administrative system, and the supreme regulator of the economic and social processes. The philosophical and ethical system developed by Confucius is the basis of the Chinese way of life. Confucianism still plays an important role in the spiritual and religious spheres of the country. The philosopher’s ideas have directly affected the history of China and the development of its society. The Chinese do not regard Confucianism as a religion but an ethical and political doctrine that influences the national culture. Millions of people all over the world are the devoted followers of Confucianism.