Religious Ethics - Confucian Ethics

Confucian Ethics

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Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism emphasize the maintenance and propriety of relationships as the most important consideration in ethics. To be ethical is to do what one's relationships require. Notably, though, what you owe to another person is inversely proportional to their distance from you. In other words, you owe your parents everything, but you are not in any way obligated towards strangers. This can be seen as a recognition of the fact that it is impossible to love the entire world equally and simultaneously. This is called relational ethics, or situational ethics. The Confucian system differs very strongly from Kantian ethics in that there are rarely laws or principles which can be said to be true absolutely or universally.

This is not to say that there has never been any consideration given to universalist ethics. In fact, in Zhou dynasty China, the Confucians' main opponents, the followers of Mozi argued for universal love (Chinese: 兼爱; pinyin: jiān ài). The Confucian view eventually held sway, however, and continues to dominate many aspects of Chinese thought. Many have argued, for example, that Mao Zedong was more Confucian than Communist. Confucianism, especially of the type argued for by Mencius (Chinese: 孟子; pinyin: mèng zĭ), argued that the ideal ruler is the one who (as Confucius put it) "acts like the North Star, staying in place while the other stars orbit around it". In other words, the ideal ruler does not go out and force the people to become good, but instead leads by example. The ideal ruler fosters harmony rather than laws.

Confucius stresses honesty above all. His concepts of lĭ (Chinese: 理), yì (Chinese: 義), and rén (Chinese: 仁) can be seen as deeper expressions of honesty (Chinese: 誠; pinyin: chéng; literally "sincerity") and fidelity (Chinese: 孝; pinyin: xiào) to the ones to whom one owes one's existence (parents) and survival (one's neighbours, colleagues, inferiors in rank). He codifed traditional practice and actually changed the meaning of the prior concepts that those words had meant. His model of the Confucian family and Confucian ruler dominated Chinese life into the early 20th century. This had ossified by then into an Imperial hierarchy of rigid property rights, hard to distinguish from any other dictatorship. Traditional ethics had been perverted by legalism.

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