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Aristotle and Confucius

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Thesis Statement: Aristotle and Confucius were one of the most influential philosophers in the world’s history; known for their practical wisdom and ethical doctrines which served as major guides in various fields of study such as politics, education, law, industry and commerce, science; but more importantly, they thought us on how to properly interact with other people and the society


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            Aristotle is one of the greatest philosophers in the history, a philosopher who did not only aim for knowledge, but also aimed on understanding the value of life and how we should live.

Aristotle was born in Greece and studied in the Academy, the school that Plato established. However, Aristotle’s teachings and beliefs were different from Plato that’s why he left. Nonetheless, in the later years, Aristotle held his own lectures in different places and became the mentor of Alexander, son of King Philip of Macedonia. He was highly respected in Macedonia however, his job as Alexander’s teacher was finished and he returned to Athens (“Aristotle: General Introduction,” 2006).

Aristotle also established his school, Lyceum. He was known in his method of teaching while ‘walking around’. Athens had a pro-Macedonian government at that time; but when Alexander died, the support for Macedonia was diminished including that of Aristotle. Aristotle escaped in order to prevent the Athenians to “have another opportunity of sinning against philosophy” just like what they did Socrates. Later, Aristotle died at the age of 62 (“Aristotle: General Introduction,” 2006).

            The death of Aristotle did not halt the growing influenced of his teachings and philosophical treatises. He wrote significant treatises in various fields of logic, metaphysics, psychology, nature, and philosophy.  The most significant doctrines of Aristotle include ethics and morality which dealt with the improvement of one’s life through the study of human well-being. Through the study of ethics, Aristotle explained the role of ethical virtues such as courage, temperance, and liberality as means in achieving happiness. Nichomachean Ethics and Eudemian Ethics were the main treatises of Aristotle’s ethical teachings (Kraut, 2007).

             Nichomachean Ethics defines happiness and explains the role of virtues in achieving it. Happiness is defined as an activity of the souls accompanied by virtue – a habit that is learned.  Aristotle believed that everyone can be virtuous by balancing the two extremes, excess and deficiency. Excess means ‘having too much of something’ while deficiency means ‘having too little of something’.  Courage, on the other hand, is the major virtue that Aristotle discussed as a mean to endure fear and pain.  All of us has courage, but of different levels in different situations. However, a courage may be deficient if a person has ‘too much fear’, therefore little confidence. Excess courage, on the other hand, means ‘too little fear’ thus having too much confidence  (Hinman, 2005).

            Why is courage important? According to Aristotle, courage enables us, whether young or old, to achieve things that we want and need by taking risks. We risk by showing our true feelings. We risk applying for a job. We risk joining competitions and so on. However, courage alone is not sufficient for us in achieving things that we value because courage needs good judgment or weighing the consequences of risks whether it would lead to a better result or not. Courage is also accompanied by perseverance or continuous trying to achieve something. You also have to consider you capabilities such as strength and weaknesses before even trying anything. Before taking any risk, there are additional factors to consider such as the possible danger, the means in taking such risk, and the goal in doing so (Hinman, 2005)

Aristotle said that courage creates a ‘brave man’. A man who faces fears at the right time, from the right motive and acts accordingly. A brave man with fears knows how to face them because he is careful in analyzing the dimensions of his fears. He remains silent and thinks of solutions; but when dangers are at hand, he faces them instead of running away.  On the other hand, a man who has ‘excess fear’ is called a coward because he fears everything.  Cowards liked being challenged, but when challenge comes they would run away.

Aside from courage, Aristotle also explained the value of ethics and its goal towards achieving what is best for us in Eudemian Ethics. Aristotle aimed on achieving the “highest good” which has three characteristics: (1) it is desirable for others; (2) it is not desirable for the sake of some other good; and (3) all other goods are desirable for its sake.

Happiness is what Aristotle considered as the highest end that a person could achieve. He defined happiness as a “virtuous activity”. Also, a happy person must have other goods as well such as friends and resources. However, Aristotle added that not all are born given the highest good. Nevertheless, he pointed out that we can achieve virtues by practicing them (Kraut, 2007).


            Confucius, just like Aristotle was able to capture the essence of a person’s character and its importance in interacting with other people.  Confucius was raised from a poverty-stricken family. Growing up, he took jobs such as caring for livestock. He received his education through studying ritual, lute and music. He also served as Minister of Public Works and Minister of Crime when he was fifty years old. However, there were some dispute between him and the other ministers that resulted to his exile. Confucius went to other places to find another ministerial position; but he was not successful. Confucius still pursued writing classics such as the Analects which became popular among historians, moral philosophers, and other scholars (Riegel, 2006).

            The Analects is a collection of the ethical teachings and discussions of Confucius. Later on, the discipline that Confucius practiced was adopted by other people that became his disciples. This discipline was called Confucianism. Confucius is very influential until today especially with his Golden Rule: do not do unto others what you would not like done to you. This rule is not just about not doing things that you do not want other people to do to you. It can also be doing things to other people that you want them to do you (Ross, 2007). Another major influence of Confucius was his discussion on the role of the state and the rulers in achieving harmony on the society. Confucius said that a ruler must rule by “moral example” instead of using force. In ancient China, killing is considered as the major punishment; but Confucius contradicted it by saying that the role of the leaders is to govern, not to kill. According to him, governing based from virtues is better than imposing laws and punishment because people would rather listen to a leader with respect for others (Ross, 2007).

The influence of Confucianism grew wider until the Confucian Classics was adopted by the Chinese government. It served as a guide in civil service examinations during the Tang Dynasty. However, the domination of scholars over the government became the cause of changes affecting the Chinese market trade and military. In some of the Chinese expeditions, they were able to travel to Indonesia, India, Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Africa. The scholars, who headed the expeditions, they banned the construction of ships larger than a two-masted ship. This caused crisis on trade and on foreign relations (Ross, 2007).

Moral philosophy is very important to Confucius especially on defining a true gentleman with integrity and good behavior. Confucius believed for a person to be called a gentleman, he must possess good moral character and has virtue.

Aristotle and Confucius

            Aristotle and Confucius had formulated different universal principles for us to learn how to be morally good. Aristotle focused on the highest good for us which is happiness. On the other hand, Confucius aimed on exhibiting good moral behaviors as a gentleman. However, unlike Aristotle, Confucius did not give enough explanation on the human soul and on God.

            Aristotle, just like Socrates, also discussed divine intervention as part of philosophy. Confucius did not, however, explained whether there is a god because he himself became a god. His discipline, Confucianism, later became major religion in China where temples were built dedicated for him, but his disciples never talk about gods. The issue of “gods” was among the issues that Confucius did not speak about. They rather used the term “spiritual beings” in representation of other being such as that of a god (Ross, 2007) Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that there is someone who is an “unmoved mover”. This being is the source of all cause or changes, but himself remained unchanged like a God. Aristotle defined God as an “eternal unmoved mover” who has the power to control all things anytime, anywhere; self-sufficient and has eternal life. Man reaches the same kind of thinking that God does through the human soul. Aristotle described the human soul as the highest part of human being because it connects all the other parts such as the physical body and mentality. The physical body is responsible for the growth and nutrition while the mental structure is responsible for our intellect and how we interpret things.  Through the soul, man is able to make reasons and coordinate his body with his mind (Sim, 2007).

 Confucius did explain whether there are higher beings beside humans. Aristotle, by giving an idea of a higher being, was able appreciate soul as a structure of human being that unites both the mind and body. Both Aristotle’s and Confucius’ principles enabled man to understand the consequences of every action guided by good moral behavior and moral judgment; its significance in achieving wellness; and its role in different aspects of the society such as the government. These principles served as universal guide for man to understand the value of one’s character and beliefs in achieving the highest end which is happiness


Aristotle: General Introduction. (2006).   Retrieved 10 October, 2007, from http://www.iep.utm.edu/a/aristotl.htm

Hinman, L. M. (2005). The Ethics of Character: Virtues and Vices.   Retrieved 10 October, 2007, from http://ethics.sandiego.edu/presentations/Theory/virtue/virtue.pdf

Kraut, R. (2007). Aristotle’s Ethics.   Retrieved 10 October, 2007, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/

Riegel, J. (2006). Confucius.   Retrieved 10 October, 2007, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/confucius/

Ross, K. L. (2007). Confucius.   Retrieved 10 October, 2007, from http://www.friesian.com/confuci.htm

Sim, M. (2007). Remastering Morals with Aristotle and Confucius. Retrieved 10 October 2007, from http://books.google.com/books?id=49mMl6AB4WUC&dq=aristotle+and+confucius&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=LDTQGocUJf&sig=Smzm_xkqNmV64crPn5a29jLVmz8#PRA2-PR4,M1.


Cite this Aristotle and Confucius

Aristotle and Confucius. (2016, Jul 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/aristotle-and-confucius/

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