Confucian Ethics Summary


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

The first thinker in China to address the problem of the wars and uncertainty that characterized the breakdown of the feudal system was Confucius (K’ung Fu Tzu), who lived from 551 b.c.e. to 479 b.c.e. His solution to the problem of societal breakdown was to return to an idealized form of feudalism. Such a system would be based on the family; the king would act as father and role model for his subjects, who in turn would behave like filial children. While emphasizing hereditary rights, Confucius also called upon kings to act in a kingly fashion and upon noblemen to act with noble integrity. If this were done, laws would be unnecessary.

The next major Confucian, Mencius (371-289 b.c.e.), in response to the accelerated decline of feudalism, added to the responsibilities of the king welfare projects and the requirement to hire officials on the basis of merit and education rather than birthright. Mencius stipulated that those who worked with their minds were entitled to be the ruling class, thus creating the idea of a literocracy rather than a hereditary aristocracy. A ruler who did not provide for his people should be replaced by another member of his family.

The next major Confucian, Xun Zi (298-238 b.c.e.) expanded on Confucian themes, but unlike Confucius and Mencius, who either implied or asserted that human nature was good, Xun Zi argued that human beings were born evil. It was human nature to seek to be good in order to protect oneself, thereby...

(The entire section is 604 words.)