Category: Philosophy Essay

The issue of preserving the contemporary epoch has always attracted the attention of many philosophers. One of the possible ways of solving this problem is through the development and employment of some ideal pattern. In such a manner, Confucius belongs to those thinkers who tried to deduce this ideal model from the social and political order of the previously existing Chinese state described by historians. Confucius considered that the whole world existed as a complex of different interrelations that realized themselves in what Confucius called “the Way”. He thought that the previous states had followed this Way, but people had been changing and perverting reality as time passed; finally, the state lost its unity with the universal harmony. Thus, the main aim of Confucius was to make people better through education because, according to his belief, everyone had a potential of following the Way called a gentleman. Nevertheless, to realize this potential, one needs proper education. The realization of a gentleman’s nature allows one to act in accordance with the benevolence that is the highest degree of the Confucian virtues. In such a way, Confucius developed and reinterpreted the ancient Chinese ethical and political values according to the main challenges of his times.

The Historical Context of Confucian Teaching

To understand the origins and actuality of Confucius’ teaching concerning a gentleman and his features, it is necessary to understand the historical background. Confucianism with its political and moral orientation appeared as a reaction to the current reality that influenced Confucius’ worldview. According to Conrad Schirokauer, the main feature of his philosophy was the appellation to some ideal image of the past Chinese state that was to be achieved by following Confucius’ guidelines. The historical perspective clearly explains why Confucius’ philosophy took such a conservative form.

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Schirokauer, in his A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, compares a powerful ancient state of Zhou and a weak state of Lu, in which Confucius was born. The state of Zhou included many Chinese lands and existed under the rule of the emperor, who based his power on traditions, ceremonies, and bureaucracy. In fact, due to the proper government, Zhou preserved its borders and stayed unified just as the Heaven did that was above it. It is important to underline that the Heaven became an important symbol of unity and integrity in Confucius’ philosophy, as opposed to the disordered small Chinese states, one of which was Confucius’ native land. The connection between the Heaven and the state broke in 723 BC when the state of Zhou turned to the period called Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn). In those times, there was no political, economic, and social stability; traditions were violated, and the unity of the state ended.

Instead of one state of Zhou, there appeared many separate Chinese states. Consequently, this situation led to the violation of the main ceremonies and traditions (because they were based on the political and social reality of Zhou). As a result, according to Schirokauer, the whole Chinese political and social system came into the total disorder that demanded some new and adequate regulating approach. Schirokauer underlines two main features of the epoch of Spring and Autumn: 1) the appearance of many political centers instead of the previous one; 2) the rise of the modest aristocracy called Shi, the representatives of which took the place of the previous ruling class of the highest aristocrats. In this context, it is important that Confucius belonged to this social group; “he was of modest aristocratic heritage, but, having no wealth or good personal connections, he had to make a career for himself”. The same concerns the majority of officials of those times, who achieved high posts due to their personal initiatives rat