Updated: Jul 30, 2022
Who was Confucius ?
The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, 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's thoughts received official sanction in the new government and were further developed into a system known in the West as Neo-Confucianism, and later New Confucianism (Modern Neo-Confucianism).
Confucius is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts including all of the Five Classics, but modern scholars are cautious of attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself. Aphorisms concerning his teachings were compiled in the Analects, but only many years after his death.
Confucius's principles have commonality with Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong family loyalty, ancestor veneration, and respect of elders by their children and of husbands by their wives, recommending family as a basis for ideal government. He espoused the well-known principle "Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself", the Golden Rule. He is also a traditional deity in Daoism.
Confucius is widely considered as one of the most important and influential individuals in human history.
His teaching and philosophy greatly impacted people around the world and remain influential today.
I. Growing Up
Not a lot is known about the childhood of Confucius. He was born in the state of Lu in 551 BC. His father was a soldier named Kong He who died when Confucius was three years old. The rest of his childhood was spent in poverty as Confucius was raised by his mother.
Confucius' family was part of a growing middle class of people in China called "shi." They weren't part of the nobility, but were considered above the common peasants. This gave him a different outlook on life than the majority of people. He thought that people should be promoted and rewarded based on their talents, not on what family they were born into.
II. Early Career
Confucius didn't start out as a wise teacher, he worked a number of normal jobs first. They included being a shepherd and a clerk,. Eventually, Confucius came to work for the government. He started out as the governor of a small town and worked his way up until he became an advisor at the top levels of government.
III. Later Life
Confucius quit his government job at the age of 51. He was disappointed that the leaders were not following his teachings. He then traveled throughout China for many years teaching his philosophy. Some of his followers wrote down his ideas in a book that would later be calledThe Analects of Confucius.
Confucius died in 479 BC of natural causes. He spent his last few years in his hometown of Qufu teaching his disciples.
V. Some of Confucius Quotes
What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.
To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.
The cautious seldom err.
Isn't it a pleasure to study and practice what you have learned?
If you see what is right and fail to act on it, you lack courage.
When you see a good person, think of becoming like her/him. When you see someone not so good, reflect on your own weaknesses.
VI. Interesting Facts about Confucius
His family name was Kong Qiu and he is called "Kongzi" in China, which means "Master Kong."
Some people consider Confucianism a religion while others consider it a philosophy.
He married at the age of 19 and had a child named Kong Li.
There are over 2 million known and registered descendants of Confucius.
VII. His Philosophy
Although Confucianism is often followed in a religious manner by the Chinese, many argue that its values are secular and that it is, therefore, less a religion than a secular morality. Proponents argue, however, that despite the secular nature of Confucianism's teachings, it is based on a worldview that is religious. Confucianism discusses elements of the afterlife and views concerning Heaven, but it is relatively unconcerned with some spiritual matters often considered essential to religious thought, such as the nature of souls.
However, Confucius is said to have believed in astrology, saying: "Heaven sends down its good or evil symbols and wise men act accordingly".
The Analects of Confucius
In the Analects, Confucius presents himself as a "transmitter who invented nothing". He puts the greatest emphasis on the importance of study, and it is the Chinese character for study (學) that opens the text. Far from trying to build a systematic or formalist theory, he wanted his disciples to master and internalize older classics, so that their deep thought and thorough study would allow them to relate the moral problems of the present to past political events (as recorded in the Annals) or the past expressions of commoners' feelings and noblemen's reflections (as in the poems of the Book of Odes).
Confucius developed his own philosophy which he taught to others. Today, his philosophy is known as Confucianism. His ideas didn't become popular until years after his death when they became the basic philosophy of the Chinese culture for over two thousand years.
Here are some of the basic ideas of Confucianism:
Treat others kindly.
Have good manners and follow daily rituals.
A man should have good morals and ethics.
Family was important and ancestors were to be respected
A true man had the qualities of integrity, righteousness, altruism, goodness, and loyalty.
One should practice moderation in all things.
He believed in a strong and organized central government.
One of the deepest teachings of Confucius may have been the superiority of personal exemplification over explicit rules of behavior. His moral teachings emphasized self-cultivation, emulation of moral exemplars, and the attainment of skilled judgment rather than knowledge of rules. Confucian ethics may, therefore, be considered a type of virtue ethics.
His teachings rarely rely on reasoned argument, and ethical ideals and methods are conveyed indirectly, through allusion, innuendo, and even tautology. His teachings require examination and context to be understood. A good example is found in this famous anecdote:
By not asking about the horses, Confucius demonstrates that the sage values human beings over property; readers are led to reflect on whether their response would follow Confucius's and to pursue self-improvement if it would not have. Confucius serves not as an all-powerful deity or a universally true set of abstract principles, but rather the ultimate model for others. For these reasons, according to many commentators, Confucius's teachings may be considered a Chinese example of humanism.
"What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.
”Zi Gong [a disciple] asked: "Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?"
The Master replied: "How about 'reciprocity'! Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."AnalectsXV.24, tr. David Hinton
Often overlooked in Confucian ethics are the virtues to the self: sincerity and the cultivation of knowledge. Virtuous action towards others begins with virtuous and sincere thought, which begins with knowledge. A virtuous disposition without knowledge is susceptible to corruption, and virtuous action without sincerity is not true righteousness.
Cultivating knowledge and sincerity is also important for one's own sake; the superior person loves learning for the sake of learning and righteousness for the sake of righteousness.
The Confucian theory of ethics as exemplified in lǐ (禮) is based on three important conceptual aspects of life:
(a) ceremonies associated with sacrifice to ancestors and deities of various types,
(b) social and political institutions, and
(c) the etiquette of daily behavior.
It was believed by some that lǐ originated from the heavens, but Confucius stressed the development of lǐ through the actions of sage leaders in human history. His discussions of lǐ seem to redefine the term to refer to all actions committed by a person to build the ideal society, rather than those simply conforming with canonical standards of ceremony.
In the early Confucian tradition, lǐ was doing the proper thing at the proper time, balancing between maintaining existing norms to perpetuate an ethical social fabric, and violating them in order to accomplish ethical good. Training in the lǐ of past sages cultivates in people virtues that include ethical judgment about when lǐ must be adapted in light of situational contexts.
In Confucianism, the concept of li is closely related to yì (義), which is based upon the idea of reciprocity. Yì can be translated as righteousness, though it may simply mean what is ethically best to do in a certain context. The term contrasts with action done out of self-interest. While pursuing one's own self-interest is not necessarily bad, one would be a better, more righteous person if one's life was based upon following a path designed to enhance the greater good. Thus an outcome of yì is doing the right thing for the right reason.
Just as action according to lǐ should be adapted to conform to the aspiration of adhering to yì, so yì is linked to the core value of rén (仁).
Rén consists of five basic virtues:
seriousness, generosity, sincerity, diligence and kindness.
Rén is the virtue of perfectly fulfilling one's responsibilities toward others, most often translated as "benevolence" or "humaneness"; translator Arthur Waley calls it "Goodness" (with a capital G), and other translations that have been put forth include "authoritativeness" and "selflessness." Confucius's moral system was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divinely ordained rules. To develop one's spontaneous responses of rén so that these could guide action intuitively was even better than living by the rules of yì.
Confucius asserts that virtue is a mean between extremes. For example, the properly generous person gives the right amount—not too much and not too little.
Confucius's teachings were later turned into an elaborate set of rules and practices by his numerous disciples and followers, who organized his teachings into the Analects. Confucius's disciples and his only grandson, Zisi, continued his philosophical school after his death. These efforts spread Confucian ideals to students who then became officials in many of the royal courts in China, thereby giving Confucianism the first wide-scale test of its dogma.
Two of Confucius's most famous later followers emphasized radically different aspects of his teachings. In the centuries after his death, Mencius (孟子) and Xun Zi (荀子) both composed important teachings elaborating in different ways on the fundamental ideas associated with Confucius.
Mencius (4th century BC) articulated the innate goodness in human beings as a source of the ethical intuitions that guide people towards rén, yì, and lǐ, while
Xun Zi (3rd century BC) underscored the realistic and materialistic aspects of Confucian thought, stressing that morality was inculcated in society through tradition and in individuals through training. In time, their writings, together with the Analects and other core texts came to constitute the philosophical corpus of Confucianism.
This realignment in Confucian thought was parallel to the development of Legalism, which saw filial piety as self-interest and not a useful tool for a ruler to create an effective state. A disagreement between these two political philosophies came to a head in 223 BC when the Qin state conquered all of China. Li Si, Prime Minister of the Qin dynasty, convinced Qin Shi Huang to abandon the Confucians' recommendation of awarding fiefs akin to the Zhou Dynasty before them which he saw as being against to the Legalist idea of centralizing the state around the ruler.
When the Confucian advisers pressed their point, Li Si had many Confucian scholars killed and their books burned—considered a huge blow to the philosophy and Chinese scholarship.
Under the succeeding Han and Tang dynasties, Confucian ideas gained even more widespread prominence. Under Wudi, the works of Confucius were made the official imperial philosophy and required reading for civil service examinations in 140 BC which was continued nearly unbroken until the end of the 19th century.
As Mohism lost support by the time of the Han, the main philosophical contenders were Legalism, which Confucian thought somewhat absorbed, the teachings of Laozi, whose focus on more spiritual ideas kept it from direct conflict with Confucianism, and the new Buddhist religion, which gained acceptance during the Southern and Northern Dynasties era. Both Confucian ideas and Confucian-trained officials were relied upon in the Ming Dynasty and even the Yuan Dynasty, although Kublai Khan distrusted handing over provincial control to them.
During the Song dynasty, the scholar Zhu Xi (AD 1130–1200) added ideas from Daoism and Buddhism into Confucianism. In his life, Zhu Xi was largely ignored, but not long after his death, his ideas became the new orthodox view of what Confucian texts actually meant. Modern historians view Zhu Xi as having created something rather different and call his way of thinking Neo-Confucianism.
Neo-Confucianism held sway in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam until the 19th century.
The works of Confucius were first translated into European languages by Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century during the late Ming dynasty. The first known effort was by Michele Ruggieri, who returned to Italy in 1588 and carried on his translations while residing in Salerno. Matteo Ricci started to report on the thoughts of Confucius, and a team of Jesuits—Prospero Intorcetta, Philippe Couplet, and two others—published a translation of several Confucian works and an overview of Chinese history in Paris in 1687.
Pic : Confucius, Philosopher of the Chinese, published by Jesuit missionaries at Paris in 1687.
François Noël, after failing to persuade Clement XI that Chinese veneration of ancestors and Confucius did not constitute idolatry, completed the Confucian canon at Prague in 1711, with more scholarly treatments of the other works and the first translation of the collected works of Mencius. It is thought that such works had considerable importance on European thinkers of the period, particularly among the Deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment who were interested by the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Western civilization.
In the modern era Confucian movements, such as New Confucianism, still exist, but during the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism was frequently attacked by leading figures in the Communist Party of China. This was partially a continuation of the condemnations of Confucianism by intellectuals and activists in the early 20th century as a cause of the ethnocentric close-mindedness and refusal of the Qing Dynasty to modernize that led to the tragedies that befell China in the 19th century.
Confucius's works are studied by scholars in many other Asian countries, particularly those in the Chinese cultural sphere, such as Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Many of those countries still hold the traditional memorial ceremony every year.
In modern times, Asteroid 7853, "Confucius", was named after the Chinese thinker.
In Nutshell, Confucianism is a philosophy based on mutual respect and kindness toward others. It was developed to bring peace and stability in society. Confucius' teachings became the state philosophy of China during the Han Dynasty. His teachings were the basis of the government civil service exams. The government liked Confucianism because it taught to respect authority and that a strong central government was important.
Confucius' teachings remained an important part of Chinese culture and government up until the 20th century.
At One point of time, All the Prisons in China were emptied because of his teachings, such was the impact of Confucianism on Society and on General Public at large.