Professor John Doe
3 April 2018
The Concept of Truth in The Analects of Confucius
Confucianism is a philosophy that was developed by Confucius between 551 BCE to 479 BCE. Confucius was born in the state of Lu in the province of China. He would later become a magistrate in the local courts. Confucius travelled across the country teaching people (Clements 14). For almost 2000 years, Confucianism was the most important force in Chinese life. It affected virtually every facet of life including government, education, and personal behavior. During his peak, Confucius had about 3000 teachers all surrounding him (Clements 45). The Confucian ideal of a superior individual is one who lives a “righteous life of rightness, virtue, and propriety” (Ames and Rosemon 37). Confucius realized that his ideas were varied to those of the clergy that felt that greatness is a function of birth. You are either born great or not. In his view, greatness was a question of conduct and character (Ames and Rosemon 78). Confucius taught people of varied background including nobilities as well as regular people.
In books 14-15, there is a mixture of subject materials using broad selections of sayings and discussions. Many scholars believe that the books in 14-15 come from different schools. Scholars believe that the core of the The Analects is book II and IV. In book 14, items that had already been discussed in the previous books such as way, goodness, and conduct of knights is discussed (Ozmon and Craver 20). In book 14, a question from Yuan Sssu is documented where he asks about compunction. Confucius responds by saying that the gentleman can accept reward if the country is ruled according to the Way. This echoes that same argument posted in chapter 3.
While reading this text, we must understand that The Analects, is composed of about five hundred independent passages, divided into about twenty books. The books are authored and overtime divided into bundles according to prevailing themes. While reading the book, one notices the order of the books have been broken overtime, by disarrangement. For example, book 15-20 are always agreed to be late entrances.
Let’s take the case of Book 14:1. It must be understood that Xian was the personal name of the disciple Yuan Xian. In the early literary convections, use of the personal name in a narrative context was usually a sign of first person voice. Because of this reaction, many scholars have argued that this passage and most of the subsequent passages in the chapter were not written by Confucius but by the disciple Yuan Xian. Using historical data, it is revealed that Yuan Xian was Confucius’ successor after his death. Yuan Xian was thus his reclusion in dangerous times when his wisdom was very much needed (Ozmon and Craver 44). Still, the writings still exhibit some form of timelessness that his unique and relevant to the human life.
Edward Slingerland argued that Yuan Si is also the same Yuan Xian who appears in 6:5. In 6:5, Yuan Si is appointed a steward, later he is asked to decline his official salary as stated on the writing about shame in 14:1 (246). Still, it is argued by many scholars Yuan Xian was one of the most excessively pure or fastidious men of Confucius’s time. Confucius disapproved of this behavior. It is also indicated that he led quite an authoritative and harsh reclusive lifestyle that earned him followings even after his dismissal in the The Analects (Slingerland 125).
Perhaps while examining this chapter, one must reckon with Confucius held believes. Confucius believed that people worked best on standards or rules for life. Because of this understanding, he developed rules for many social activities.
While using rules to provide guidelines for human beings, he also believed that the self should not come before the society because people usually have overriding obligations to parents, ancestors, and society as a whole. Confucius belief was an individual’s self well-being usually depends on the well-being of others. Perhaps this set of beliefs explains why 14.1 is a controversial piece on the relationship between the leader and the servants. The chapter basically states that an underperforming leader must be fired to guarantee the safety, pride, and integrity of other people.
Just like Confucius, Plato was an important Greek Philosopher who lived between 427- 347 BCE. Plato started out as the student of Socrates whom he remained an admirer for a long time. In Plato’s writings, Socrates is usually the protagonist in a compilation of dialogues dealing with almost every conceivable topic. Some of the Plato’s most famous books include The Republics and Laws. Upon Socrates death, Plato opened a school called the Academy where he let professors engage in philosophical debates. According to Plato, people should always be concerned with a primary pursuit of truth. He defines truth as “perfect and eternal” (Jowett 12). He also says that truth cannot be found in the world of matter that is full of imperfections and constant change. However, Plato reasoned Mathematics exhibits the highest demonstration of the concept of truth. In Mathematics, concepts are truthful and eternal, for example, 1+1= 2. Mathematics thus shows that universal truths can be realized through education, society, and politics while in the pursuit of becoming a true philosopher (Ozmon and Craver 141).
In The Republic, Plato argued that there is a separation of the world ideas from the world matters. In the ideal world, good is the highest point, and is the source of all true knowledge. However, the world of matter is ever-changing, and with sensory data, it is difficult to trust. He advised that people need as much as possible to free themselves from a concern with matter so that they can advance towards the good.
Plato also argued that people do not create knowledge, they just discover it (Jowett 17-19). In education, Plato proposed an education that would bring a world where the individual and the society are moved as far from each as possible towards good. On gender, equality, Plato argued that girls and boys should be given the same opportunity to advance. However, he noted that those who demonstrated exceptional abilities should be given that opportunity so that they can enhance society using their exceptional skills (Jowett 31). Plato also introduced a liberal model of thinking that enhanced the embracing of arts, poetry, and music into educational programs. Many people have argued that Plato would be obviously the father of western thought particularly on issues such as education. On leadership, Plato argued that philosopher-king should be a doer in addition to being a thinker (Jowett 56).
While Plato argued for education as important in thought awakening, Confucius believed that while education is important in the society, moral character would be more meaningful to life than education. Confucius argued that education in the form of imparting skills to young people and information was different from inculcating the sole premise of life which is moral courage. The moral approach of life emphasized practicality that assessed the connection of people in the society. Some elements of this argument focused on the relationship with people in the immediate and extended families.
In simple terms, Confucius unlike Plato argued that sons have the moral obligation to obey their parents for the wisdom that they have gained in the world because of age. A man who follows the ethics of respect to the elders has the opportunity of becoming a “Chun-tzu” that literally translates into a true gentleman. Confucius taught that a true gentleman held values as astute as the right attitude, the right procedure, the right knowledge, moral courage, and right persistence. He argued that if these values are practiced wholesomely, then society would be on the verge of understanding the principles of wisdom and justice.
Unlike Plato who argued that there is a concept of universal truth, Confucius held the view that religion was way of life and Happiness and satisfaction in life mostly depended on the success of humanity as opposed to the individual. The total of Confucius was to prepare men to become good fathers, mother, son, daughter, brother, friend, and citizen (Ozmon and Craver 82). He believed that every person should have a continual desire for development, self-excellence, and realizable goals.
Moral philosophy probes us to object the idea of truth of fact and trade it off for our personal values. By becoming clouded by values, moral philosophy thus commits the fallacy of moral claims. Factual claims and moral claims cannot be tested the same. Factual claims are tested by quantitative reasoning, by observation and experience. Moral claims are difficult to test because they are built on people’s values. As such, the use of cultural relative argument allows people to hide on cultural relative sense by appeasing cultural moral claims. Finding correct answers requires that one step out and removes the hat of ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentrism leads to bias because it makes people see the world as they understand it. In order to escape these fallacies, one has to be morally relative. Moral relativity is drawing lines across cultures on what is wrong and right. It is setting standards that are consistent, similar and disrespectful of the feelings or values of the affected community, society or individuals. The question on moral relativity is, how do we define the standards of what is wrong or right?
To conclude, I would like to argue just like William Graham Sumner, a social Darwinist of the 19th century and a defender of cultural relativity that there is no universal concept of right and wrong. According to Sumner “The notion of right is in the folkways. It is not outside of them, of independent origin, and brought to test them. In the folkways, whatever is, is right” (28).
Because of this reason, we are pardoned from the argument that one’s society is morally superior to another society. There is no right way of doing things. The right way is the way that a given culture has used and which had been handed down over time. Like Sumner, I assert that “the tradition becomes its own warrant” (28). Culture differ in values, and values affect the conclusion that people make as rational human beings, moral pluralism posit that human beings are rational and make decisions that best represent their interests.
Ames, Roger T., and Henry Rosemont. The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation. Ballantine Books, 1998.
Clements, Jonathan. Confucius: A Biography. The History Press, 2005.
Jowett, Benjamin, translator. The Republic. By Plato. Dover Publications, 2000.
Ozmon, Howard, and Samuel M. Craver. Philosophical Foundations of Education. 9th ed., Pearson, 2012.
Slingerland, Edward Gilman. Confucius Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Hackett Publishing Company, 2003.
Sumner, William Graham. Folkways: A Study of Mores, Manners, Customs and Morals. Cossimo Classics, 2007.