Confucius was born 551 BC in Ch'u-fu, state of Lu (Now Shantung province in China). He was originally named KUung ChUiu but his title was Latinized when his teachings were introduced to the West by Catholic missionaries in the early 17th century. He is said to be Chinas most famous and important, teacher, philosopher, and political theorists and his teachings have influenced the civilizations of all eastern Asia.
While little is know about his early life it is believed his family was of the impoverished nobility and he was orphaned at a early age, grew up poor and was largely self educated. While he was always searching for a greater enlightenment, learning was not his greatest priority, he focused much of his interest in the political and social problems of the time. He was born during the downfall of the Chou dynasty and much of the country was in turmoil.
Confucius is said to be the foremost teacher of China, he spent a large part of his life directly teaching a small group of disciples. He once said, "In education there are no class distinctions", which demonstrated his belief in the equality and educability of all men. Confucius often downplayed his own importance in his philosophical teaching, he called himself "a transmitter and not an innovator", when actually he was a very revolutionary thinker who shaped much of eastern thought to this day. To define Confucianism would be to define the ideal social ethic in China and many surrounding countries. Emphasis is stressed on the four cardinal virtues, jen, yi, li and chih. Jen is benevolence, love and human heartedness. It was believed that everyone had good inside and kindness to all things and all those around you was part of making you a complete person. Yi is righteousness, this is the obeying moral obligations, to live in harmony with everything around you and stay free of guilt or sin. Li is benevolence, which is to have a kindly disposition, promote the welfare of others and display goodwill to your fellow man. Chih is wisdom, which means that a person must strive for knowledge and understanding of the world around them. These are the rules that were needed to be followed help make a more complete and civilized person. Most of the direct quotes of Confucius are found in the Lun-yu or Analects of Confucius, which is a collection of journals and notes on sayings and activities of Confucius, which was kept by his diciples. Confucius said, "It is by poetry that oneUs mind is aroused; it is by ceremonials that oneUs character is regulated; it is by music that one becomes accomplished." Some of Confucius'more famous sayings would have to be, "Within the four seas, all men are brothers," "Wishing to be established oneself he assists others to be established; Wishing to be successful oneself he assists others to be successful," and of course, "Do not do to others what one does not wish to be done unto."
Many of Confucius'sayings show the strength that he felt backed up his philosophical teachings. One example is, "The commander of a great army may be carried off, but the will of a common man cannot be taken from him." Or, "The superior man is always calm and at ease; the inferior man is always worried and full of distress. The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what is profitable. The superior man makes demands on himself; the inferior man makes demands on others." Toward the end of his life Confucius said, "At 15, I set my heart on learning. At 30, I was firmly established. At 40, I had no more doubts. At 50, I knew the will of Heaven. At 60, I was ready to listen to it. At 70, I could follow my heartUs desires without transgressing what was right."
Confucianism seems to search out or expose the good of people. It tries to stress order and harmony between all things. It explains that all men are extremely similar and it is only our habits and customs that make people different. It speaks of family and how this harmony with the world must start at home, then be carried out into society. By promoting good a person is not only improving their life but those around them, and through cooperation and tolerance for that which you may be opposed to you are making the world a better place. So in short Confucianism seems to be saying that by following the cardinal virtues a person is making there own life more complete and useful while improving the lives of those around them.
Like Socrates, Confucius sets many important guidelines for all philosophical study and understanding. It should be understood that both Confucius and Socrates, two of the greatest thinkers of all time, existed around the same time in history and had extremely similar philosophical beliefs, yet were on opposite sides of the world in extremely different cultures and had no connection or knowledge of the others culture. This may be evidence that their beliefs about human nature, education and the ideal society are the most correct to date or at least the best starting points for study. Both philosophers believed that knowledge was the key to becoming the most complete person, so they may both have agreed that their own philosophies should be studied and developed rather than simply accepted.
Confucius seems to be a stand out philosopher for two reasons, firstly he is probably the most well respected and fully accepted philosophers in history. Books he wrote or edited have formed the basic curriculum of Chinese education for more than two thousand years. Secondly Confucius is one of the most open-minded philosophers, his goals were to use what create order and harmony amongst all things by using all the knowledge the world could offer. Confucius is one historical figure that can never be studied enough and his teachings will be useful and important for generations and generations to come.
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