Confucius and Humanity Essay Sample
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Introduction of TOPIC
The basic conception of Confucius’ philosophy is ren, i.e., humanity, while humanity is at the same time the leitmotiv of our epoch. This accounts for why the Confucian idea is so close to contemporary readers and why his teaching principles and methods have maintained vitality throughout history. Confucius explained humanity as ‘to love the people,’ or ‘to love the masses extensively.’ This led him to provide equal opportunities in education and to carry out teaching activities in dialogue with his disciples. The overall development of everyone’s potential ability constitutes the most important part of Confucius’ notion of humanity.
He practiced moral education, intellectual education, physical education and aesthetic education through his ‘six art crafts’: ‘The wise have no perplexities, the humanists have no worries, and the courageous have no fears. His philosophy was originated from his political practice and teaching activity. Based on experience, its principles and methods are pragmatic rather than speculative. Confucius has been honored as a paragon of virtue and learning by Chinese people for thousands of years. The main documents of Confucian philosophy consist in recorded dialogues and discourses with his disciples: The Analects. Thus it may be seen that his lectures sent forth an amiable intimacy, and his philosophic discourses were characterized distinctively by an element of feeling.
Having acted as shepherd, trumpeter and storekeeper in his early days, Confucius eventually turned out to be the most famous and learned scholar in his time by staunch studying independently. From his thirtieth down to his death, there were thousands of students following around him. Even after his death, his tomb had been guarded by lots of disciples and admirers ,and the place turned to be a village at last. With his achievements and prestige, Confucius had been honored for a paragon of virtue and learning by Chinese people for thousands of years.
The main documents of Confucian philosophy consist in the recorded dialogues and discourses between him and his disciples. Thus it may be seen that his lectures sent forth an amiable intimacy, and his philosophy in that time could only be a naive empiricism brought forth by the special situation rather than a great set of speculative metaphysics.
I. Humanity Principle
The central idea of Confucian philosophy is REN, i.e. humanity, he explained that REN is to love the people,” one could not love only his parents, brothers, sisters and sons,” but ought to love the masses extensively. Here the “masses” did not signify specially certain kind of people. Its basic meaning is like what Buddha said of saving all the living creatures and Christ said of loving all the people including your enemy.
When his stables were burnt down, on returning from court, Confucius said, “Was anyone hurt?” He did not ask about the horses, those he asked about might be his home slaves to whom he had never discriminated, on the contrary, he showed extraordinary concern and love to them. Therefore, his humanity principle is both the foundation of his philosophy and criteria of his behavior.
This humanity principle was carried forward continuously by his disciples. One of his disciples Zixia said, “all people on the earth are brothers, why should a gentleman worry about shortage of brothers?” Mencius later related this loving -heart spirit as ” respect my own elders and extend this respect to the other’s elders, love my own youngsters and extend this love to the other’s youngsters.” During the past thousands of years, this universal love spirit has permeated into the cultural tradition of the nation, become life-maxims known to everybody. These maxims went down through history, and finally came to be Dr. Sun Yet-Sen’s slogan UNIVERSAL LOVE. In modern life, it is this slogan that acts as an idea bridge leading to exchange with the world.
The theoretical basis of this humanity philosophy was stated in a negative way as” never do to others what you would not like them to do to you,” that is, what to say, how to say, what to do, how to do, all must be examined from other people’s angle, and in a positive way as “You yourself want to stand up in the world, than help others to do the same. You yourself want success, then help others to do the same.” These activities manifesting conscious humanity should be practiced and strove for consciously. In the presence of humanity, one need not avoid competing with his teacher.” Only by continuous effort in practice without slack can one approach the ideal personality of humanism gentleman. Once you face the test of life and death, ” persons devoted to humanity will not seek to live at the expense of injuring humanity, and will even sacrifice their lives to preserve humanity.” With the encouragement of Confucian words, countless Chinese sons and daughters advance wave upon wave to sacrifice for the country, thereby strengthen the coagulation of the nation, which kept an old and powerful one in overcoming innumerable hardships and dangers.
Confucius’s broad mind also enable him to subsist the hard days calmly during the encirclement in Chen and Cai, later he said, “With coarse food to eat, cold water to drink, and the blended arm as a pillow, happiness may still exist.” These words were just the real description to the fervent heart in the hard life at the time. Confucius has an account in his own words on his behaving, “He is a man whose zeal for work is such that he often forgets to eat, whose happiness in his pursuit of knowledge is so great that he often forgets his troubles and does not perceive old age stealing upon him.” Here “his happiness is so great that he forgets his troubles” is just the vivid manifestation of his words” the humanists have no worries.” This optimistic and enterprising spirit supports him to be apart from panic, desperation, regretting and retreating.
Confucius is usually mistaken about the important problem of love in live. People often take his famous remark that “I’ve never seen someone who would like virtue as liked a charming lady” as his basic attitude towards love, thereby think that his pan-loving heart was envying with the love between men and women, that it was but a pan-loving of a pedant towards the same sexes. True, we’ve never seen any documents about him had left any romantic loving anecdote or some fervent advocation, but we all know that the first Chinese collected poems was edited and used as textbook by him. The first poem in the collection revealed the author’s innermost feeling, “There is a pretty quiet girl, I’ve missed her in the dream running after her but attain nothing. I long for her in the dream, missing and longing, and turn over and over in bed and couldn’t fall asleep.” It may be conceived that how much deep sympathy and mental sponse of the editor have permeated into
the first piece of the collection. There is a poem missed in the
II. Equality Idea
Confucius’ private school provided for everyone to be educated equally. It occurred for the first time in mankind history. He said, “I never refused to instruct those who are willing to bring me a bundle of dried meat as payment.” “Instruction recognizes no castes” In his 3000 disciples there were over 70 outstanding ones including Memyiz from aristocratic origin and Zhonggong from mean family. This led to many reproaches at the time, “What a mess is the disciples to and fro in the old teacher’s court.” A disciple said in defense of his teacher,” Just as there were various patients in a good doctor’s clinic, our teacher admitted everybody’s request from all quarters. “However, the relation between good doctor and patients is often that the doctor looks after the patients and the patient has only the obligation to obey the doctor’s advice without any choice, while it was a mutual respect and equality relation between Confucius and his students. The teacher may ask the students their aspirations at any time, and the student in turn may also ask the teacher’s, then Confucius answered frankly, “My aspiration is that the aged live an easy life, friend have faith in me, and the youth cherish the memory of me.”
Confucius said, ” When you know a thing, say that you know it, when you do not know a thing, admit that you do not know it, that is true knowledge.” This judgement provided a criterion before which the teacher and the disciples are in the equal position. On the other hand, the pupil’s doubt could just enable the teacher to deepen his thought. If the disciple yielded to his teacher endlessly without any feedback, Confucius was not satisfied and said, “Yan Hui was not any help to me, for he always accepted everything I said.”
As a philosopher, Confucius’ views and words were far superior to that of the ordinary people, whereas as a man with blood and flesh and normal feelings, he was full of parents’ love and friendly emotion towards the student in living together from morning to night. This provided adequate soil for his humanity thought. It might as well say, it was in the continuous feedback and inspiration of disciples with active thinking and supple mind that made Confucius extraordinary achievement of thinking.
III. Pragmatic Attitude
Hegel said in his lecture on the history of philosophy,” Confucius is only a man who has a certain amount of practical and worldly wisdom-one with whom there is no speculative philosophy.” The speculative philosophy proposed here is but one respect of western philosophy, i.e. metaphysics. It is the characteristic of Germany classic philosophy that has been rejected already by contemporary empiricism philosophy. Bypass the differences regarding epoch and culture background, if we try to look for a scholar relative in the western philosophy trends for the philosophical method and attitude of Confucius, and made a choice between Hegel’s metaphysics and James’ pragmatism, people would prefer James to Hegel.
James said in his lecture on pragmatism, “A pragmatist turned his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solution, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequate, towards facts, towards action and towards power.”
Numerous Confucian sayings are summed up from plenty of observations on experience, that is, they turn towards the concrete and the adequate, towards facts and actions. For example, through countless observations he noticed that pulse has different effects upon persons in different age, then he said,” There are three things against which a gentleman should be on his guard .In youth, before his pulse has settled down, he should be on his guard against lust. Having reached his prime, when his pulse has become strong, he should be on his guard against strife. Having reached old age, when his pulse declines, he should be on his guard against avarice.” Here he supposed a pulse factor in physiology and medical field to explain the changes of behavior tendency in three basis phases of life. This supposition had later been approved universally as adequate theory by Chinese people and even became the common sense among the whole society.
The golden mean is one of the basic category of Confucian philosophy. It is the method and norm of his humanity principle. There are both similarity and difference between Confucian golden mean and that of Aristotle. The later said in ‘ Nicomachean Ethics’,” It may become evident also if we view the kind of nature possessed by virtue. Now in everything that is continuous and divisible it is possible to take an amount which is greater than or less than or equal to the amount required, and the amount taken may be so related either with respect to the thing itself or in relation to us, and the equal is a mean between excess and deficiency. By’ the mean’ in the case of the thing itself, I mean that which lies at equal intervals from the extremes, and this mean is just one thing and is the same for everyone… For example, if ten is many and two is few, then six is taken as the mean with respect to the thing itself, for six exceeds two and is exceeded by ten by equal amount, and this is the mean according to an arithmetic proportion.
“Both Confucius and Aristotle emphasized the defects of excess and the deficiency. A disciple once asked Confucius,’ Who is better, Shi or Shang?’ ‘Shi goes too far and Shang does not go far enough.’ ‘ In that case, Shi must be the better.’ Confucius said, “to go too far is as bad as not to go far enough.” When the golden mean extends from the personal remark to the right handling of the interpersonal relation, down to the chance-grasping of an important action, the standard by which one may judge the excess or deficiency is changing with the time, space and conditions, that is, “A gentleman keeps the golden mean in due time.” This shows that what Confucius means is perfectly a pragmatic principle and method based on experience, whereas that of Aristotle had its clear transcendental character, it is inferred by simple rationalistic deduction. The virtue brought forth in this way is a production of speculative mind.
IV. All Round Development
2400 years ago, both Confucius (551-479.bc ) and Socrates ( 469-399 .bc ) arose in the world as great philosopher-teacher successively, Both held that one could improve his nature by study and both brought up a group of scholars and thinkers who constituted a cultural tradition influencing later generations. Both practicing ask-answer teaching method, Socrates was good at deepening the debate step by step to distinguish the similarity and difference, whereas Confucius preferred giving systematic guidance to correct the one-sided knowledge. The teaching place of Socrates was often in the gymnasium, on the street or in the lane. Confucius taught mainly in the classroom, but the courses of shooting and carriage-driving were on-the-spot teaching. It indicated that both thought highly of the physical education. Examining their teaching principles, Socrates attached importance to seek truth by debate, while Confucius stressed the overall development of the disciple’s potential talent .It is the all round developing of human ability that composed the central content of his humanity education.
Confucian courses may be divided roughly into basic course (six artcrafts ) and specialized course (six books). Six artcrafts involved Rite, Music, Shooting, Carriage-driving, History and Arithmetic. Rite represented moral education, History and Arithmetic represented intellectual education, Shooting and Carriage-driving represented physical education and Music represented aesthetic education. The pupils were required to accept overall studying and training in six artcrafts so that “the wise have no perplexities, the humanists have no worries, the courageous have no fears.”
V. Power of Personality
Confucius’ great charm of personality attracted a great number of disciples from all directions and scholars of later generations. This is the wisdom charm of a philosopher, the loving-heart charm of a humanist, the courageous charm of a noble-minded person. Confucius attached great importance to the self-cultivation in moral education. In his numerous everyday demands he proposed JUNZI (gentleman) as a social moral standard, and he told his favorite pupil Zixia “ought to be a gentleman scholar, not a petty man intellectual ‘. The contrast between gentleman and petty man is not that between the more or less of knowledge and learning, but difference between the degrees of humanity spirit manifested in the way of words and deeds.
How did Confucius distinguish gentleman and the petty man? When anything comes up,’ The gentleman understands what is right, petty man understands what is profitable.’ When in predicament,’ the gentleman keeps his virtue in privation, the petty man commits all kind of out-rages at once.’ In the respect of self-restraint,’ a gentleman is dignified but never haughty, petty man is haughty but never dignified.’ In the respect of interpersonal relation’ .The demands that gentleman makes are upon himself, those that petty man makes are upon others.’ In short, the petty man considered everything centered on his selfish interest, while gentleman takes care of the interest of everybody including that of the petty man.
In the long run of social development, Confucian humanity education and equality spirit had permeated into the cultural tradition and national character of China, and become the moral standard among social members. Since’ The Analects of Confucius ‘ had been acting as children’s primer for hundreds of years, almost everyone could recite the first sentence in the book,’ to have friends come to you from afar, is that not after all delightful?’ Since the opening of the Silk Road, China was known as ‘ the nation of humanity and justice’ for presenting little aggressive ideology and invading action. It thereby strengthens the economic contacts and cultural exchanges between China and other countries.
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