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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
The Historical Problem Faced by Confucius


Abstract: Confucius' proposal of a return to re-interpreted traditional life brings an end to a period of warring states.
III. The Historical Problem Faced By Confucius:
A. The Immense power and change wrought by Confucius is
very difficult to understand.
1. The collection of sayings seems so plain and commonplace.
2. There is very little that one can object to in his sayings. How, then, can George Barton call Confucius the most influential man in the whole history of China?
B. The answer lies in the answer to the question: How do you bring to an end interminable warfare in a society? Or, more positively, what holds society together? What is it that provides social cohesion?
C. Suppose you've had a culture for thousands of years (3,000 BC) and tradition no longer holds it together. How do you overcome the rise of individualism?
1. The Realists: (known only through Confucian historians) Han Fei Tzu (hun fay dzuh)
a. Similiar to our own Hobbesian tradition: nature is red in tooth and claw; life is nasty, brutish, and short.
b. Ultimately, order is based on force: reason and morality sound good, but in the end, force prevails.
c. Punishment should be heavy.
d. Philosophical implications for human nature:
(1) Man's lower impulses dominate him; people are lazy.
(2) People act from self-interest and their strongest desire; they are egoists.
(3) It must pay to be moral; order must come from outside.
This philosophy does not imply there are no pangs of regret. E.g., Han Fei Tzu (quoted in The Way and Its Power) wrote to his son:
No lake so still but that it has a wave,
No circle so perfect but that it has a blur,
I would change things for you if I could;
As I can't, you must take things as they are
2. Mohism (mo ism): utilitarianism; philosophy of love; Mo Tzu (mo dzuh).
a. The answer to the problem is not force, but love--love all equally.
b. Calamities arise out of lack of mutual love. Love others as yourself; love begets love; hate begets hate.
c. Mohism was ultimately religious. The universe is good as created by the Sovereign on High (a personal God).
d. People should love others as they love their own families and states.
3. Confucius' genius: return to the roots of society. Tradition is shifted to a conscious base: the education of moral ideal and setting up patterns of prestige.
a. Rejection of Han Fei Tzu's Realism:
(1) Force does not compel people to be friendly.
(2) You cannot legislate or compel morality; inconsistencies will come out.
b. Mohists answer of love is too utopian. Different situations require different responses.
(1) Mohism is too impractical--you can't treat your friends and your enemies the same way.
(2) Trace out the implications in your own life.
c. If we suggest the cultivation of reason, Confucius would reject that as well.
(1) Reason and verbal instruction do not give commitment.
(2) Powerful rhetoric will move people far more than reasoned discourse.
d. Confucius' Answer: return to your roots--get back to tradition.
(1) The old unconscious traditions are too remote and would not appeal directly to the new individualists.
(2) So the tradition was reinterpreted and modified to appeal to the best of that society--a political masterstroke.
(3) Education of the moral ideal. Moral ideas were driven into people by every possible means: temples, theatres, homes, toys, proverbs, schools, stories, parades... until they became a habit.
(a) If effect, what was set up were "pattern of prestige"--the making of a superior individual and having people emulate him.
(b) A second nature was developed--of what you are, of what you are living for, of what you become.
(c) These patterns become an inner imperative and an engrained habit.
 


     

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