I'm writing an essay comparing and contrasting the philosophies of one ancient, one Asian, and one more recent philosopher. I was wondering which philosophers fit best into this essay, and also what sub-topics would be good to include (i.e. what did they agree on/disagree on, whether it be world view, humanity, ethics etc.)? I was thinking of writing about Confucius and either Plato or Aristotle; however, I don't know who the third one should be. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Rather than trying to choose philosophers first and then themes, you will end up with a more coherent essay if you choose themes or issues first and then think about which philosphers best fit the theme.
With Confucius as a fixed choice, you probably want to emphasize ethics and political philosophy, as he really does not make significant contributions to natural philosophy or metaphysics. Plato and Aristotle both address ethics, but of the two, the Platonic dialogue form leads to a level of interpretive complexity that might be difficult to address well in a short essay; thus Aristotle would be a good choice.
The obvious towering figure of modern philosophy who addresses ethics but in a radically different fashion than the two you have mentioned is Immanuel Kant (St. Augustine would be a close second).
For major themes:
1. Religion and philosophy: for each of these writers, to what degree do they believe in the divine, and how much does that belief (or disbelief) inform other aspects of their philosophical systems?
2. Ultimate goals: what is the ultimate goal of the individual human qua human for each philosopher?
3. Ethics: what makes a legitimate system of ethics? what underlying principles inform each philosopher's system? how do they differ? (e.g., Kant's three imperatives)
4. Political philosophy: what sort of political system does each philosopher recommend and why?
5. Epistemology: what do each of these philosophers think about the nature of knowledge and how we obtain it?