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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Naturalism, Supernaturalism, and Humanism

I. Confucianism is basically a humanistic social philosophy. What this means can best be seen by contrasting humanism with naturalism and supernaturalism.
A. Naturalism: the philosophical belief that what is studied by the social and physical sciences is all that exists (and the need for any explanation going beyond the universe is denied).
1. The understanding of the universe requires no supernatural cause. The natural world is the whole of reality.
a. The universe is self-existent, self-explanatory, and self-operating.

b. The world process is purposeless, deterministic, and only incidentally productive of man. I.e., There is no purpose. What is there that could give purpose to things?

c. Human life (physical, mental, moral, and spiritual) is an ordinary event --attributable in all respects to the ordinary operations of nature.

confu_1.jpg (4620 bytes)


Symbol Legend:
G = God
M = Man
N = Nature

2. Stratonician presumption (Strato of Lampsacus): the claim that it is up to anyone wanting to postulate a God to show sufficient reason for doing so.

3. Why cannot the Universe's existence and fundamental characteristics be themselves the ultimate features of explanation?

4. Consequential Spiritual Ideals: Hence, discovering how human beings should act is a matter of discovering how nature acts, so man's actions can be in accord with nature.

a. Trust instincts: by acting in accord with nature, what seems superhuman feats become possible.

b. By being in tune with nature, we become far more aware of the realm of possibilities.

c. We don't fight nature, we don't wish things were different, we don't force events to happen. (Instead of carrying the boat, the boat carries you.)

d. We become at one with the world--e.g., Zen and Taoism.

B. Supernaturalism: the theological belief that a force or power other than man or nature is ultimate.
1. This supernatural force (God) regulates both man and nature, making both of them subordinate to it. (God as creator.)

2. Man is considered to be higher than the rest of nature.

3. Consequent Spiritual Ideals:

confu_2.jpg (2719 bytes)


Symbol Legend:
G = God
M = Man
N = Nature

a. How human beings should act is largely a matter of knowing and doing God's will.

b. Hence, human beings must transcend themselves and not trust their instincts.

C. Humanism: the philosophical belief that the welfare and happiness of mankind in this life is of primary concern.
(In this century, the label has been used for naturalistic humanists who reject all religious beliefs, insisting that we should be exclusively concerned with human welfare in this, the only world.)

1. Hence, people, rather than God or nature are taken as ultimate.

2. There is nothing superior to man as a source of human principles.

3. Consequent Spiritual Ideals: The answer to the question, "How can goodness and happiness be achieved?" is gotten by pointing to the principles of action found within man himself--humaneness.

confu_3.jpg (2879 bytes)


Symbol Legend:
G = God
M = Man
N = Nature

a. In Confucianism jen (wren) means that the humaneness of a person is the source of these principles.

b. Consequently, the first principle of Confucianism is to act according to jen.

Check your understanding with a Quiz on Humanism, Naturalism, and Supernaturalism.



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