The Main Tenants of Confucianism

The Main Tenants of Confucianism.

Confucius is a well-known Chinese thinker who is usually considered to lay the foundations of Confucian school and thought - The Main Tenants of Confucianism introduction. He devoted many works to analyzing the relationships of man and society, and searching for the structure of a perfect society. According to Confucius, every man is a part of the society, and he plays a very important part in it. Therefore, he needs to have certain fixed duties and rights which always have to be fulfilled in the society. One of the distinctive features which can be seen through Confucius’ works is his admiration of the idealized society of Xi Zhou dynasty which can be dated by 1027-771 B.C. This society can be characterized as the society in which people leaded a perfect life under the rule of sages.

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Even though this society was not perfect by any means from the point of view of our contemporaries (the Zhu society was based on slavery), this aspect did not bother Confucius by any means. “The fact that the Zhou dynasty had been a feudal society based on slavery did not concern Confucius.” (Henry C.K. Liu, 2002). According to the philosopher, it was very important in the society to pay attention to hierarchy. Besides, in his opinion, the fate of a slave in the society governed as well as Zhu society was very lucky in comparison with the fate which he would have in the society of chaos, even if he became a lord in such a society. Confucius’ views are very close to Plato’s views in this respect because he considered the material world only the reflection of the ideal one.

The Duke of Zhu whose name was Zhougong was the member of the Zhu dynasty who laid the foundations of the feudalist society during his rule which lasted just 7 years. He supported the chosen socio-political system which he chose with his Five Rites, an elaborate structure which have been known until the present days. The Five Rites adopted by Zhougong include the following: rites which administer social relationships; rites which administer behavioral codes; rites administering clothes codes; rites administering marriage; rites administering burial practices. Zhougong went even further in his accomplishments by suggesting strict ceremonies for social ladder. Confucius finds the mentioned codes adopted by Zhougong very efficient and considers Zhougong the founder of Chinese feudal culture which was very effective from Confucius’ point of view.

It’s also important to stop at the description of the Five Relationships governed by Confucian rites because they played a very important role in the culute. “The Five Relationships (Wulun) ruled by Confucian rites include the following:

1) sovereign to subject,

2) parent to child,

3) elder to younger brother,

4) husband to wife;

5) friend to friend.” (Henry C.K. Liu, 2002)

These interactions shape the essential social organization of Chinese society. Every module in the interactions is based on the ritual obligations and liability to the others at the same time he or she takes advantage of privileges and due significance accorded by the other workings. Due to these rites, the social hierarchy becomes one of the most important feature of people’s interaction in the society.

When stopping at the ethics of Confucius, it’s necessary to mark that the ethics which he represents is combined of all the principles which are common for Chinese ancient religious morals. “Confucian ethics is designed to buttress the terms of traditional social contract. It aims to reduce potential for violent conflict between the arrived and the arriving. It aims to channel the powerful energy of the arriving into a constructive force for social renewal. Confucian ethics aims to forge in perpetuity a continuing non-violent dialectic eclecticism, to borrow a Hegelian term.” (Henry C.K. Liu, 2002.)

The main principles which Confucius puts into his moral values can be summarized in the following way:

v humanity or goodness (jen) which includes thoughtfulness about other people and helping them if they are in need. “The ideal of jen is within the reach of all, and one should constantly reflect on one’s character, and correct one’s deficiencies.” (Audi, 2001, p.174)

v rightness or duty (yi) which includes fixed rules according to which all the people have to behave, despite what their emotions tell them;

v rites (li) which means that all the people in the society have to follow the norms of social hierarchy and social interactions which have been adopted by the government;

v consideration (shu) which means that one person should not to something to another person what he would not like to be done to him (in future, this principle will be developed by Kant in his works);

v commitment (chung) which includes following all the norms adopted in the society with maximum loyalty and not neglecting any of the rules.

The moral values which were described and analyzed by Confucius have to be a ground for an efficient governance of the state, from his point of view. According to Confucius, those values had to be expressed by every governor if he wants his land to be prosperous and people to be happy. The most important quality which needs to be represented among the mentioned ones is “jen” which stands for humanity and goodness because every governor has to be very considerate with his nation. The ruler needs to provide for people, show them all of the good qualities which he possesses in order to make them realize they all have to be just as good as their governor. According to Confucius, the key to prosperity of culture lies exactly in the ability of the ruler to express all the main moral values. In his opinion, showing humanity and goodness means loving not just yourself but others even more than yourself, paying with good for good. It also means answering to a person who did something unfair or mean to you with being fair and good to him. From Confucius’ point of view, being human means being able to sacrifice your own interests for the sake of other people. These values necessarily need to be expressed by the ruler because he needs to put the interests of his nation higher than his own ones.

Even though it’s probably not necessary to shift Confucius’ views on the present society structure, some of his approaches could be applied nowadays as well. For example, all the main moral qualities which the leader has to represent from his point of view are very useful for any leader in any country. If all the presidents nowadays applied all of the Confucius’ principles when ruling the country, they could achieve outstanding results.


Audi R. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Second edition.- Cambridge University Press.- 2001.-1001 p.
Bertrand Russell. A History of Western Philosophy.- Touchstone.- 1972.- 895 p.
Henry C.K. Liu. Maoist economics and politics. 2002
Lacey A.R. A Dictionary of Philosophy.- Routlene & Kega Paul.- 2000.- 386 p.
Lavine T.Z. From Socrates to Sartre: the philosophic quest.- Bantam Books.- 1984.- 426 p.

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