On Virtue: Comparing the Views of Confucius and Aristotle


          There has been a growing need to compare and possibly contrast Aristotle’ virtue ethics with the views of Confucius on ren- which can also be translated to mean virtue. The implication of this discussion is to establish if there is any kind of relationship between the two philosophers’ thoughts. It is specifically important to attempt to distinguish these concepts especially given the fact that there is a slight difference between morality and ethics.  This has been established following the contributions of later day philosophers towards the earlier works of Aristotle. This research paper has therefore attempted to compare the views of the two philosophers and while giving their differences fair mention especially in the virtues of politics, ethics and morality

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            Aristotle and Confucius have both stressed on the value of virtue within the society, spelling out how it correlates with the political correctness of a regime. Even so they do take different approaches in describing the nature of virtue and how the society can embrace this value. This paper will give a detailed description of the two sides of arguments provided by both Aristotle and Confucius stating where they differ and where their concepts portray a similarity.

            The paper will therefore present the concepts of virtue illustrated by Aristotle on one hand then present the concepts of virtue as illustrated by Confucius on the other hand. It will then give a comparison of the two argumentative sides pointing out the areas where they differ and how this difference brings out the general overview of the concept of virtue. The paper will also bring out the similarity between Aristotle and Confucius’ concepts of virtue stating how this influences the general understanding of virtue.

Comparing Aristotle and Confucius

Confucius has been widely accepted as a thinker. This is because most of his works revolved around ethics and morality. Aristotle on the other hand concentrated his works on ethics. (Yu 1998).   A fundamental question that can be asked here regarding the definition of ethics and morality is on which sides the two philosophers lie. The bone of contention here is whether ren which also implies virtue is the same kind of virtue that should be taken to mean the opposite of morality.

            This discussion is therefore very interesting. This is because the discussion focuses on bringing out the differences between these two philosophers. This is more so given the fact that Aristotle’s virtue ethics in the mainly in the West while Confucianism is in the East. (Yu 1998). Virtue can be translated in Latin to mean virtues which has an implication of manhood. This had an original meaning of excellence of humanly qualities. Ren on the was used in the early poetry books to refer to noble huntsmen.

            The implication here according to some researchers is that ren could as well have the meaning of manly or even manhood. That notwithstanding, their applications in daily use are quite different. The word ren is more inclined towards human relationships. It is based in this reasoning that Confucius teaches that when people learn to be good, they become people of ren. According to Aristotle on the other hand, anything of virtue is something on its own good function. That is a thing that can be said to have its virtue by functioning properly. (Yu 1998).

Remastering morals virtues with Aristotle and Confucius

           The views of Aristotle and Confucius have had similarities and differences. The ethics of Aristotle flow from an understanding of purposive nature in actualization while Confucius ethics are from a sense of comparison in relations and balance among the ingredients. (Sim, 2007, p201) While Aristotle’s agents operate from deliberating among options which are based on reasonable judgment, Confucius agents operates from an aesthetic sense of that which is fine and fitting based on sensible cultivation in occasions and rituals that are virtually right and have strong alternatives. (Sim, 2007, p201)

            Confucius’ ethical reflections provide a supplement that is physical and this leaves the reader to figure out for themselves the implications of the observations made by Confucius and their pronouncements. On the other hand Aristotle’s metaphysics have substance and are individualistic something that Confucius’ metaphysics lack. Confucius’ metaphysics tend to be rational and possessive. (Sim, 2007, p.201).Aristotle’s metaphysics have a sense of reason and distinction. This is shown especially in his ranking of friendship. He has three senses of substance which include, the concrete substance which consist of a matter and its form. The species form which reference a matter that is taken generally and finally the pure form considered the final cause itself. (Sim, 2007, p.201)

                Aristotle had doctrines which used these three senses .If human beings had pure minds according to Aristotle; they would not have the desire and the emotions that come from the essence of being human beings. It is because of the emotions that individuals admit to qualitative difference. Through friendships individuals are able to take care of their individual needs and pleasures. (Sim, 2007, p202) .The virtue of friendship and its importance is a common view shared by Aristotle and Confucius. Human beings need friendship for sharing and association. Confucius and Aristotle also agree on the view of a virtuous man as the man who loves himself but not because of his material wealth a view shared by Aristotle. (Sim, 2007, p.210)

         Aristotle concentrated much on the happiness of human being and how he will live for the common good of the people. Aristotle concentrates much on the intellectual virtue on practical basis while Confucius covers much on the general virtues. Aristotle virtues were based on practicality and one could easily visualize them but confusions views on virtue were in general terms (Jejuna, 2007) Aristotle is of the view that virtues are acquired through a process which he calls habituation which simply means that the virtue can be inherited through cultivation. This confronts the ideas of the Confucius that he held that virtues in human being are acquired through engagement in rituals (Jiyuan, 2007).

            Confucius and Aristotle differed in the definition of virtue where Aristotle defined the virtue as a state that human being good and perform his function properly. This discusses the excellence of the human being. He focuses on the improvement of the human being happiness, in Nicomachean he concentrates mostly on the social aspects. He stresses on the point of individual improvement that can lead to happiness and lead to the common good of the partnerships (Saturday, 2007).

            On the other hand Confucius defines the virtue as being love to all men. He places his much focus on the virtue in relation to the interpersonal interactions with the society. While Aristotle seem to be of the view that one should treat himself better than the other Confucius views is that one should be good to other as he is to himself. Aristotle insists that practicing of the virtues is a great approach in achieving the happiness. This contradicts the Confucius views on virtue that they should be practiced for the sake of virtue only. The only contrast among the two is that they both do not provide rules that to be followed when actions are to be taken (Saturday, 2007).       They continue to differ on the way the virtues are acquired where Aristotle claims that virtues are obtained through regular performance of virtuous. To this Confucius says that the virtues can be obtained but he does not explain the details are how they should be obtained (Saturday, 2007).

            Aristotle and Confucius are basically great philosophers the world has had, a comparison of the views of the two on the concept of house hold results in a wonderful contrast. According to Aristotle household basically has an economic function that is capable of providing to the household members and thus enhancing continuity in life on the other hand Confucius absolves himself from Aristotle point of view and views a house hold as a real of training virtues. This contrast basically leads to the question whether virtues exist within or outside the household. (Everson1996 p11)

To some extent the two philosophers agree that virtues exist inside the house hold as long as the main driving force is not acquiring wealth. According to Everson(1996 p.11) in his book entitled the “politics and constitution of Athens” Aristotle seems to portray that politic is basically the most important thing than any other thing and the political class will always successful ahead of the community in achieving their goals. This view basically originates from the fact that the political classes always represent the entire society.

On the other hand Confucius in Legge (1971, p.359) postulates that the whole kingdom ought to be happy and at ease with each other and he expresses as the overall objective of each and every person in the kingdom .Its important to note that both the two philosophers are generally concerned about the well being f the society but basically have different means of achieving this goal in that for Aristotle politics is the main thing to achieve the highest state while Confucius propagates for cultivation of one to achieve tranquility and success in life.

            On politics, Aristotle explains how the moment of mutual recognition within the society occurs when each individual identifies a striking tradition of virtue that exits within the deep-seated cultural differences. (Goodman & Talisse, 2007, p.69).Even so, each tradition deserves respect and should not be stopped from pursuing the vision of its political virtue. However it may be difficult for a tradition to recognize individual rights but it is the virtue tradition that may limit the recognition of the visions of virtue. (Goodman & Talisse, 2007, p.69).

            Confucius on the other hand stipulates that it is with good laws that virtuous citizens can exist and the virtuous practices can be exercised. According to him, a virtuous politics does not consider laws and rules as the major things to look into as they are just supplements of virtue. (Goodman & Talisse, 2007, p.69).Therefore Confucius states that good laws are a way of refining virtue since they go along with the possession of virtue.  He also stresses that good laws is something owed to the citizens because it is from the good laws that they can achieve virtue. For that reason, the people should claim their right to the conditions that will encourage them to be virtuous and this means that the political policies have to enact good laws. (Goodman & Talisse, 2007, p.69).

            Further still, both Confucius and Aristotle agree that the society is obliged to take care of its advantaged members. This is because according to both of them, the people who have abundant resources should be well taken care of because of the generosity and splendor they exude to the society. ( Goodman & Talisse, 2007, p.70).Furthermore, both Aristotle and Confucius believe that the responsibility that lies in the hands of the advantaged members of the society can only be generated by virtue and the less fortunate also need to be assisted by the fortunate. On the same note, it should be understood that virtue can not be pursued unless the society works towards meeting the minimal needs of life. (Goodman & Talisse, 2007, p.70).


Evidently, both Aristotle and Confucius stress on the importance of virtue within the society even though they their views differ in one way or the other. On one hand Aristotle’s concepts originate from an understanding of the nature of actualization while Confucius’ originate from a comparison of relations and the balance among the ingredients. On the other hand, Confucius’ concept comes from an aesthetic point of view and leaves the readers to interpret them from their own perspective while Aristotle’s concepts come about as a result of reasonable judgment. All the same they both talk about the essence of virtue within the society and at certain points they even seem to agree with each other’s views.


Aristotle. (1996) The Politics and Constitution of Athens.  Everson, Stephen Ed.

Cambridge (1971). Confucian Analects, the Great Learning, & the Doctrine of the Mean.  Trans   James Legge. New York: Dover Publications, INC, 1971. P. 359

Goodman, L. E., & Talisse, R. B., (2007). Aristotle’s Politics Today. SUNY Press.

Jiyuan Y. (2007) The ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: mirrors of virtue available at

            http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=12743 accessed on August 29, 2008

Saturday N, (2007) Comparing the views of Confucius and Aristotle Available at

http://www.gradingrocket.com/essays/Philosophy/On+Virtue%253A+Comparing+the+Views+of+Confucius+and+Aristotle/ accessed on August 29, 2008.

Sim, M. (2007). Remastering morals with Aristotle and Confucius. Cambridge University


Yu J, (1998). Virtue: Confucius and Aristotle: University of Hawaii Press. Available at

            http://www.jstor.org/pss/1399830  Accessed on August 29, 2008.

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On Virtue: Comparing the Views of Confucius and Aristotle. (2016, Jul 21). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/on-virtue-comparing-the-views-of-confucius-and-aristotle/