Confucius was a Chinese thinker, educator and philosopher, whose teachings have immense influence on the Chinese social and intellectual history. Confucius claims that his teachings were transmissions from ancient times, thus he did not invent them on his own. This explains his emphasis on rituals and customs, which he believes are important for social stability. Confucius’ teachings have been preserved in the Analects, which consist of dialogues between him and his students. His teachings emphasized on government and individual morality, as well as social relationships, sincerity and justice. In view of this, the Confucius thought has various facets, which can be categorized into three distinct areas namely; education, social life and politics. This paper will explore the Confucius thought as it relates to these three areas, in order to understand it in its entirety.
Confucius’ thought on education
One of the hallmarks of Confucius’ thought is the emphasis that he laid on education and study. Confucius discourages people from having faith in intuition and natural understanding, arguing that real understanding of a given subject can only be achieved through careful study. In Confucius’ view, this implies locating a good teacher, whose words and deeds can be imitated. Confucius is credited to have taught many students on subjects such as proper speech, morality and government. His teachings were aimed at creating men who could conduct themselves with grace and proper speech, while demonstrating integrity in all they did. Confucius particularly emphasized on moral education, which he believed was necessary to instill the correct values in society (Riegel, 2006).
Confucius however discourages excessive meditation and reflection, calling on learners to exercise moderation. Based on this view, he acknowledges that one who learns without thinking is lost. At the same time, he claims that one who thinks but does not learn is in a perilous position. This means that learning should be an observation process, which should be accompanied by reflection, resulting to inner change. Regardless of what people hear, they should choose what is good and adhere to it based on inner reflection (Hall & Ames, 1987).
Confucius’ thought on social life
According to Confucius, all people live within parameters that have been firmly established by fate. In his view, this means that people’s lives are controlled by a Supreme Being, as well as nature’s fixed cycles and patterns. Despite this, people are responsible for what they do and how they treat others. Though there is nothing people can do to change their predestined life spans, they can determine what they accomplish as well as what they are remembered for. This thought forms the basis of Confucius social philosophy (Tu, 1998).
Confucius’ social philosophy mostly revolves around the concept of loving others or ‘ren’. This essentially means cultivating concern for others, which requires a person to put the needs of others first. Confucius also emphasizes on respect for the elders and those who hold superior positions in society. Concern for others is usually demonstrated through treating other people they way one would want to be treated by them, as summed up in his golden rule. According to Confucius, compassion or ren has to be practiced on a daily basis, and should be the basis of all interactions with other people. Confucius considers loving other people as a mission for which an individual should be willing to die (Ariel, 2000).
Confucius also talks of altruism or self-sacrifice, which he claims can only be acquired by people who have learned self-discipline. Confucius goes on to claim that learning self-discipline requires one to study and master the rules and rituals of propriety. It is through propriety that individuals express respect for superiors, as well as perform their roles in society in such a way that they become worthy of admiration and respect. In view of this, adhering to propriety should form the basis of all people’s speech and actions.
However, Confucius also points out that rituals that do not take into account the needs and interests of others are meaningless. In view of this, though rituals are important in society, it is always important to consider their impact on other people. At the same time, Confucius clarifies that being subject to rituals does not imply suppressing personal desires. Instead rituals require a person to learn how to reconcile individual desires with those of the family and the community. Indeed, it is only through experiencing desires that people can understand the value of social constraints that make it possible to have ordered societies (Freedman, 2002).
Confucius’ political thought