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Confucianism Is Awsome
The first thing you should know about Confucianism is the first thing most people in the west already do know: Confucianism teaches the Golden Rule in its negative form. “Do not do to others what you want them to not do to you.”
The second thing you should know is that the positive form of the Golden Rule also turns up. It’s not as explicit and universal and obvious as “Do to others as you would have them do to you” and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” but it’s definitely there. It’s at the end of book VI of the Analects.
What else should you know about the Analects? I dunno. There’s so much interesting stuff to know, and I don’t know enough myself.
But I can give you three more pointers. These things do seem pretty important.
First, there are magnificent insights on the value of ritual. But I’d best not say any more about that here. (My Muse is seemingly off-duty at the moment, and if she were here she might get long-winded. Recommended reading: a little green book by Herbert Fingarette called Confucianism: The Secular as Sacred.)
Second, Confucianism talks about a wonderful set of key virtues. The one about humanity makes it even better than the ancient western list of wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation. Here’s the classical list of five, with columns for traditional Chinese characters, simplified Chinese characters, Mandarin Pinyin transliterations, Cantonese Jyutping transliterations, and some translations borrowed from scholars like Legge, Gardner, Dawson, and Muller.
|仁||Rén||Yan4||benevolence, humaneness, humanity, kindness, perfect virtue|
|義||义||Yì||Yi6||righteousness, justice, rightness|
|禮||礼||Lǐ||La-i3||ritual, rite, propriety|
|智||Zhì||Tzyi3||knowledge, wisdom, understanding|
|信||Xìn||Shun4||integrity, good faith, sincerity|
Third, Confucius says some very cool things about how essential trust is. A government needs trust more than it needs weapons–even more than it needs food! The Analects also has important advice for restoring trust by restoring trustworthiness: Be honest, correct your mistakes, and don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them doing to you.
Someone should mention that to the federal government.
I have a new series on Rumble and YouTube digging into the Analects. I’ll copy a few samples below. Here’s where you can subscribe to me on Rumble, and here’s my Rumble playlist on classical Confucianism, and here’s the YouTube playlist.
.Published in General
I believe that C. S. Lewis said that the proof of a god and creator was that all of humanity shares the same fundamental rules. They are universal and somehow hardwired into us.
I would trust government officials more if they wore full body cams and made all their correspondence and phone calls public. There should be no 18.5 minute gaps in the record.
Our bureaucracy falls short – far short – of living up to the Analects.
Thanks, Mark. This is excellent. I´ve got a German translation of The Analects right up there on the shelf. I´ve had it and the Tao Te Ching in multiple versions over the years.
Brilliant contributions to our understanding of philosophy, as always. Gratitude.
Roughly the opening argument of Mere Christianity.
If I recall my Introduction to Philosophy course correctly*, Confucius was aiming at influencing the Imperial bureaucracy when he wrote the Analects.
* As the renowned scholar Steve Martin once noted: ” If you’re studying Geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all, but Philosophy you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life.”
Seems a valid indicator of a shared origin or bottleneck experience, but hardly indicates a particular origin.
I think that you are correct about Lewis saying something like this, though I also think that he was incorrect.
Historically, there has been significant commonality in many moral principles taught by most societies. Norms against wrongs like murder and theft seem close to universal. Likewise for norms about marriage, adultery, and sexuality, to some degree. On the adultery issue, I recall Lewis saying something like: some societies taught that you may have more than one wife, but none taught that you can have any woman that you want.
I think that the Apostle Paul had a more accurate view of this, in Romans. In Chapter 2, he wrote:
However, the Gentiles did not always behave in this way. For example, the Greco-Roman world in which Paul lived was characterized by a great deal of sexual immorality. This was particularly notable in Corinth, and addressed in his letters to the Corinthians.
In Romans 1, Paul warned about the descent into lawlessness of those who reject God, even though “His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” This rejection leads to disaster:
It seems to me that this describes what’s been going on in our country since the 1960s, if not sooner.
Mark, I wonder about the wisdom of looking to other philosophies or religion.
It is true that many of them share some of the teachings of Jesus. However, they do not accept Jesus Himself, and all of them depart from His teachings to a greater or lesser degree.
What do you think that Jesus and His Apostles taught about considering such alternative religions or philosophies?
I think that Lewis’s point is that the rules for right and good living are generally shared across humanity, not that everyone follows those rules.
If Confucianism was so wonderful why did its prevalence lead to new world records for cultural, political and technological stagnation? Winding up being ruled by bureaucrats whose approach to everything was a pre-existing set of fortune cookie aphorisms… Analogous to a society that is trying to reduce all things to the wisdom of DEI officers but denigrates engineers, entrepreneurs, and mathematicians.
And they will look back at us with all of that lumped under “JC WC”.
Yes. Lewis has to include a lot more in his argument to get as far as G-d.
I don’t know. Nothing clear and distinct comes to mind.
There is definitely a real interaction with ideas from Stoicism and Epicureanism in Acts 17, which might make a good model of the answer. Romans 2 no doubt presumes some familiarity on Paul’s part with Greek philosophy. Colossians 2:8 might be interpreted in different ways. (Between Augustine’s interpretation and the interpretation of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, we have at least two plausible philosophy-friendly interpretations.)
I’m more confident of getting a clear answer from the likes of Ambrose, Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, Oswald Chambers, James Legge, and C. S. Lewis.
I don’t think it did. At best, those guys were lousy Confucians, following some corrupted form of the teachings.
There are strong lessons against accepting false teaching, and against idolatry or worship of foreign gods. It’s not clear that this applies to “philosophies” as distinguished from “religions,” though it’s hard to specify the difference between these two categories.
Regarding Acts 17, which part? The end, when Paul addresses the Athenians about an “unknown god”?
I’m not sure why you’re telling me this.
The part where he addresses Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill.
Do you remember later in Jerusalem when he temporarily enlists the Pharisees in his own cause because that way they get to disagree with the Sadducees? He does something similar here: He gets both sides of the Stoic/Epicurean debate to join him on some points by specifically agreeing with some of their major claims against each other.
The Epicureans say the gods don’t need us! Paul pointedly says G-d does not need us. When he says that, the Epicurean philosophers up on that rock are nodding in agreement and smirking at the Stoics.
The Stoics say the gods care about us. Paul says G-d cares about us. When he says that, the Stoic philosophers are nodding in agreement and smirking at the Epicureans.
This is a bit easier to understand if you’ve studied both traditions, and/or Cicero’s book about their debate on religion–De Natura Deorum, On the Nature of the Gods.
The best concise statement on the question addressed here that I have heard was from Jack Hayford back in the 90s. From memory: “The Christian message has never been that other religions have no beauty or wisdom in them. They originated with men who bear the image of God, so some beauty and wisdom will permeate them. The Christian message is that beauty and wisdom won´t save you.”
And I would add that for Christians, the message comes from a man who is G-d.
God Incarnate, who laid down his life as our eternal Passover Lamb.