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Jul 11, 2019 in Review

Explaining Confucius: The Essence of Political and Ethical Thought

There can be no doubt in the assumption that Confucius is a well-known Chinese ancient thinker, suggesting his own theory of building the State and creating specific rules to ensure a peaceful existence of the Chinese society. Accordingly, it is reasonable to shed light on the views that the underlying philosopher expressed in regard to the possible ways of restoring the social order. As different interpretations and explanations to his reflections exist, there may be no exception that Confucius’s theory can be considered through the prism of ethics and politics. Presumably, the integration of political issues for the sake of creating a positive ethical background for the Chinese culture seems to be an apparent phenomenon inherent in the manner of Confucius’s thinking. 

Confucius lived in a period of intense political struggle between the Chinese kingdoms and the endless turmoil within these realms. Therefore, questions about political stability, governance practices and the latest achievements of wealth and power were among the most pressing issues of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. Most of the ancient thinkers of China were trying to successfully resolve the underlying issues. Confucius was one of the first to provide a peculiar political model to stabilize the above-mentioned situation. Considering the State as a large family, Confucius established its ethical-political belief system and essentially laid the foundations of the patriarchal theory of the State in China.

In this context, it is reasonable to mention the concept of Heart-Mind peculiar to the essence of Confucianism. Nowadays, it can be interpreted from different perspectives, but it is usually reflected through the prism of combining knowledge with human actions, rationality with emotional responses. Therefore, the ideas of sacred Humanism form the core of Confucius’s thinking. He considered the family as the unity the positive relationships, in which were crucial for the well-being of the State. Such a humanistic approach to governance means that not even a family matters to the prosperity of the country, but the role of each member seems to be the concluding point in the welfare. According to Confucius, the development primarily depends upon self-cultivation.

Evidently, the purpose of the underlying ancient thinker was to create social order. To enhance comprehensibility, Confucius created three levels of Proper Order achieved through self, social and government criteria that respectively refer to self-cultivation, the ensurance of social ordering through social institutions and the existence of a large-scale nation-government. Interestingly, in the maze of Confucianism, one may see a person in the center who is subjected to self-cultivation by the Natural Order. To create the order within humanity nd specifically the State, one may assume that the coordination between natural and social is indispensable. However, to preserve the mind and its functioning, a person is linked to the social institution of family and the communication flow.

Confucius believed that the main responsibility of a person is the responsibility to society. The man is not a man in isolation from their fellows. Thus, the harmony of a person is in harmony with other people. Man must cooperate with others and fulfill the requirements that the society imposes. The roots of this kind of interaction are in the Dao, but the level of human experience is that intermediate point through which people express their connection with the universe. When a person develops his ability to tune with the loved ones, he/she becomes able to understand the universal harmony. Confucius saw that not all the people behaved in accordance with the rules of co-operation and mutual assistance, and believed that people need some specific rules. In such a way, Confucius reproduced and interpreted the ancient traditions of the Chinese society.

 
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Rules are most valuable when they are specific. People who prefer to live in an organized society, feel more comfortable when there are certain rules, which constitute a single integrated system. That is why for many years great importance has been attached to the Confucius’s rulebook covering everything from how to spend time with one another, and to how to worship the ancestors.

Regarding the previous points, Confucius set a twofold purpose that consisted in organizing relations among relatives of the nobility, streamlinimg its mutual relations, warning tribal aristocracy of the looming threat of the loss of its authority and warning to the ‘inferior" people, the new landowners, merchants and peasants. However, in addition to this, the ancient thinker ideologically justified the privileged position of nobility, showing its right to eminence and dominion, and smoothing the bottoms of discontent among poor people. Thus, Confucius developed the scheme and suggested the compliance with a specific set of rules to which particular importance was attached. The East Asian thinker held forth love of family and relatives, piety to their parents and ancestors, respect for elders and their subordinates, honesty and sincerity, the constant striving for self-improvement internal, courtesy, etc. Confucius believed that such compliance, especially for people who perform public functions, is an indispensable element in the governmental affairs.

Confucius elaborated many behavioral principles and human relations peculiarities taking into account some of the traditional norms of conduct that existed in the communities where the older generation enjoyed unquestioned authority. Nevertheless, morality, as interpreted by Confucius, did not coincide entirely with the common law and included a number of contributions. Yao, dwelling upon his interpretation of morality, states that “Confucianism itself can be defined as a form of ethics” (32). The idea of honoring the older generation that existed in the communities was rendered beyond the small social cells and incorporated not only in the societal norms and values, but also in the structure of the State model. According to the scheme of Confucius, the governor stood only a few steps over the head of the family. It was designed to have a real impact on the community members, for governor’s teachers introducing their usual performances, stressed that the state is the same family, only a large one. Such an interpretation was easily perceived by his contemporaries, because at that time such a way of thinking was typical of many Chinese sages. As the rules presented by Confucius consisted of the already existing traditional and familiar ones, they were easy to memorize. The ideas inherent in them could be learned and practiced without putting much effort.

Stressing the importance of education, Confucius did not offer anything new. He repeated what the ancients said, and gave it a special significance. Public order was based on the principles of morality, appropriate words and deeds. Like the ancient thinkers, Confucius believed that morality should be used in all areas of life, but its application is particularly important in the field of management, as the rulers are all teachers. They can teach a lesson of morals, when they themselves are an example of high morality and virtue. Only through this, a new golden age could ultimately be set when all men would treat each other kindly and with respect.

According to the teachings of Confucius, common rules existed only in ancient times, so only then the proper order reigned in the Chinese culture. The idealization of antiquity, the ancient appeal as the most powerful argument in political debates and in the political thought has become a tradition at the time of Confucius. The founders of philosophical and ethical-political schools, often used the concept of antiquity in this sense. However, no one before Confucius paid much attention to ancient times and did not consider it in their teachings. In additions, it is worth analyzing Confucius’s conceptual framework of Heaven. Heaven is known to be an impersonal objective necessity that fate cannot overcome. His concept of Heaven is not just a part of nature, but also the supreme spiritual power, which determines the development of the world and a person. Heaven, according to Confucius, is watching for justice in the world and is the guardian of the social order. However, one cannot affirm that the heart of his philosophy is presented by heaven, or the natural world, it is his earthly life and existence. 

The most important discovery of Confucius is the discovery of a person as a special reality. If the form is being built in the hierarchy, it appears that the earth is the foundation of the pyramid, the sky is its top, and a person occupies a middle position. On the one hand, a person is passion-bound and marked with restless pride. On the other hand, concerned with the expansion of contemporary society, Confucius drew attention to moral behavior. Thus, a person was located at the intersection of two vectors that determine its behavior – the nature and morality. In this vein, Confucius leaps to a conclusion that it is impossible to answer the question, what is a person, without finding out what is their purpose. This means that it is not the natural way to determine the peculiarities of a person and his/her desire for self-realization. Not surprisingly, Yao is inclined to think that Confucianism is “a universal yardstick for behaviour and ideas, an orthodoxy that oriented conduct, thought and relationship” (34). A person’s conduct, the ability to distinguish between good and evil, seems to determine how the person is willing to live.

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In addition, Confucius did not believe in superstitions and was not governed by any religious ideas. He paid little attention to the teachings of the spirits and the afterlife (not yet knowing what life is, how could one know what is death, not being able to serve the people bit consider possible to serve the spirits?). Along with this, Confucius advocated the preservation of the existing customs and insisted on a thorough and rigorous performance of rites and ceremonies, of which ritual sacrifices were singled out for the sake of ancestors as an important way of expressing respect for them. Nevertheless, Yao along with other researchers are inclined to think that Confucianism is a religion “because it has a strong ritual dimension: offerings and sacrifices to ancestors” (40). Considering these observations, one may easily assume that Confucianism is marked with a profound ethical background.

To sum up the foregoing, Confucius’s efforts were directed towards the establishment of a proper social order marked with self-cultivation of all the members of the society. Strictly, the State’s main goal was to ensure that its citizens maintain positive and agreeable relationships with each for the sake of building peace and stability in the Chinese culture. Thus, in Confucius’s interpretation, the State should be assimilated to a big family with a positive, friendly attitude to each other marked with obedience to ancient traditions. Although Confucius was not directed by any religious beliefs, nowadays Confucianism is considered as a religion. As all the above-mentioned observations relate to the humanistic approach to life and are directed towards finding a proper solution to resolve the matter of turmoil, Confucianism can be called an ethical-political movement aimed at establishing the social order along with the natural one.

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