briefly describe Confucianism's supreme virtue.

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Confucius spoke of four primary virtues: sincerity, benevolence, filial piety (that is love and respect for ones parents) and propriety.  All four virtues were important, but the most important, often called the root of all virtues, was filial piety. Confucius never wrote any of his teachings, but is reported to have said:

Of all the actions of man there are none greater than those of filial piety

Filial piety was the backbone of early Chinese society which was strongly patriarchal. A son should both love and respect his parents, provide for them in their waning years, and lead his own life in such a way as to reflect honor upon them. So superior was the will of ones parents that a man was expected to live under the same roof as his parents even after he married as long as they lived. Also, if for any reason his parents were not happy with his spouse, he was obligated by piety to divorce her, regardless of his feelings toward her. Even a cruel and wicked father deserved respect. Confucius anticipated that a son might on occasion feel the need to reprimand his father for some wayward action. If so,the son was to do so as meekly as possible.

Confucius's teaching bears a marked resemblance to the Old Testament Commandment to "honor thy father and mother."

gopikrishna | Student

In Confucianism the pursuit of virtue is natural and fortunate. But in this pursuit of moral perfection Confucius sought to give others the enthusiastic love of virtue that he felt himself. To make oneself as good as possible was the main business of life. Everything that was conducive to the practice of goodness was to be eagerly sought and made use of. Knowledge was held as an indispensable treasure. The knowledge which he taught to be pursued was not purely scientific learning, but was the study of the sacred texts and the rules of virtue and propriety Confucius taught his followers the importance of always welcoming the correction of one’s faults. Confucius insisted mainly on the four virtues of sincerity, benevolence, filial piety, and propriety. Sincerity was a cardinal virtue. It meant more than a mere social relation. Sincerity also meant to be truthful and straightforward in speech, faithful to one’s promises and to be conscientious in the discharge of one’s duties to others. The sincere man in Confucius’s eyes was the man whose conduct was based on the love of virtue, and who sought to observe the rules of right conduct in his heart as well as in outward actions. Showing a kindly regard for the welfare of others and in a readiness to help them in times of need, was also a fundamental element in Confucius’s teaching. These things were viewed as the traits of the good man. In the sayings of Confucius, he states many things that can be compared to the Golden Rule. The third fundamental virtue in the Confucian system is filial piety. In the "Hiao-king", Confucius is recorded as saying: "Filial piety is the root of all virtue."—"Of all the actions of man there are none greater than those of filial piety." To the Chinese, filial piety prompts sons to love and respect their parents, contribute to their comfort and bring happiness and honor to their name by honorable success in life. Filial piety included the obligation of sons to live after marriage under the same roof with the father and to give him obedience as long as he lived. The will of the parents was declared to be supreme even to the extent that if the son’s wife failed to please them he was obliged to divorce her. If a dutiful son found himself compelled to scold a wayward father he was taught to give the correction with the utmost meekness. The father does not forfeit his right to filial respect, no matter how great his wickedness. Another virtue of primary importance in the Confucian system is "propriety". It embraces the whole aspect of human conduct teaching men to do the right thing. In the rules, ceremony, customs and usages are listed by which Chinese etiquette is regulated. They were distinguished even in Confucius’s day by the three hundred greater, and the three thousand lesser rules of ceremony, all of which had to be carefully learned as a guide to right conduct