What is the difference between Confucianism and Taoism?

A central difference between Confucianism and Taoism is that Confucianism focuses on the structure of society through different societal relationships, such as that between a king and a subject, while Taoism focuses on the outlook and way of life of the individual.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A major difference between Confucianism and Taoism is that Confucianism's primary focus is on the ethical organization of human society, while the main focus of Taoism is the human's alignment with the natural world.

Confucianism arose out of the chaos of civil war and disorder in Ancient China. Confucius realized...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

A major difference between Confucianism and Taoism is that Confucianism's primary focus is on the ethical organization of human society, while the main focus of Taoism is the human's alignment with the natural world.

Confucianism arose out of the chaos of civil war and disorder in Ancient China. Confucius realized society would remain chaotic and uncivilized until people were taught an orderly way of behaving to one another that everyone could agree on. Out of that system a humane society would flourish.

As a result, social relations are foundational to Confucianism. Society is organized into five basic relationships: monarch to subject, parent to child, husband to wife, older brother to younger brother, and friend to friend. If everyone obeys the rules and responsibilities governing their role in these five relationships, all will prosper. Confucianism also defines five virtues: charity or benevolence, honesty, integrity, knowledge, and civility. These are all social virtues that direct how people behave to one another.

If Confucianism is concerned with the way to rightly organize social relationships among people, Taoism is primarily concerned with how human beings should rightly order themselves to be in harmony with the universe. Taoism essentially states that we should align ourselves with nature, not try to fight against it or dominate it. (From this comes the popular English phrase "go with the flow.") This philosophy of harmony is called Wu Wei, or effortless action. The model for it is the flow of water, which simply adapts to and moves around and over obstacles rather than trying to fight against them. This is the way—or Way (Tao)—to peace and order.

Both systems are concerned with harmony: one with harmony in society, the other with harmony in the natural world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Taoism and Confucianism are both religions focused on improving individuals and society, but they are also very different. They originated in China, and began as the musings of different moral philosophers that have been followed and observed through the centuries, forming eventually into major religions.

Taoism is a religion dedicated to following the Tao, or The Way. The philosopher Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching as a collection of his wisdom, and it is primarily focused on finding harmony within oneself and with nature. This is the effort to seek “the Way”, which emphasizes righteousness through finding balance, and is focused on individual improvement.

Confucianism is similar in that it is derived from the writings of a philosopher. Confucius wrote many short, wise sayings, and compiled a collection of various aspects of wisdom and righteousness. His goal, however, is the pursuit of a just and righteous society, stressing in his works reverence, respect, and justice for people, to create a respectful and dignified society.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Confucianism and Taoism are both philosophies which began in China. Neither were apparently originally intended to be religions per se, but they have been treated as such by many adherants and scholars. Taoism is primarily concerned with the living of life by the individual, while Conficianism is directed at the life of society itself.

Taoism is based on the book Tao te Ching (in Cantonese; Daodejing in Mandarin) loosely translated as "The Way", "The Way of Life" or "The Way and its Power." Supposed to have been written in the 5th century BC by the sage Lao Tzu (Laozi), this philosophy stresses harmony and balance, and seeking balance in life through contemplation and non-action. By this Lao Tzu did not mean to do nothing, but only that which is necessary. To the onlooker, the Taoist may appear to do nothing, but actually has done only what is needed, and done it before others have noticed the need for action. Deep thought on life and it's cycles leads to knowing what to do when, and that to do more or to act at the inappropriate time is counterproductive. Personal freedom and responsibility is important in Taoism, and it's application to political action is a minimalist concept of government. Lao Tzu's concepts were expanded and codified by Chuang Tsu (Zhuangzi) two centuries later.

While Taoism is a way of looking at life and living it, Confucianism is largely a system of ethics for family and societal living. It is based on the teachings of K'ung Fu Tzu (Confucius), a scholar born about 551 BC in the Kingdom of Lu, today's Shantung Province. Often confused with "ancestor worship", Confucianism includes the concepts of respect and love for the family including ancestors; honesty; benevolence; trustworthyness; and righteousness. Loyalty to one's state or nation is also stressed, as are rules of propriety, ritual, politeness and etiquette. The central works of this philosophy are the "Five Classics", including the writings of earlier Chinese rulers, classic odes, a history of classic rites, and a history of the State of Lu. The Classics also include the I Ching, a much earlier work which was a study of military strategy and human behavior disguised as a work of fortune-telling, to escape the book burnings following the fall of the Chou dynasty. There is also another set of works called "the Four Books", including the writings of Meng Tzu (Mencius), a philosopher who lived some two centuries after Confucius.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team