| Thinking hard|
or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
Confucius (Pinyin: Kong fu zi) was an extremely influential philosopher from the late Zhou Dynasty, living in the sixth to fifth century BCE.
His teachings, later collected in the Analects, went on to form the basis of Imperial Chinese statecraft, starting in the Han dynasty and lasting until the overthrow of the empire in 1912. They continue to be very influential in China and surrounding countries, such as South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, to the point where Samuel Huntington referred to most of East Asia (excluding Japan) as the "Confucian Civilization".
His philosophy (and quasi-religion) was founded on keeping harmony via hierarchy. He emphasized moral righteousness as coming from study and accepting one's roles in the "Five Relationships", which were:
- King - servant
- Parent - child
- Husband - wife
- Older sibling - younger sibling
- Friend - friend
Though the last item appears not to have a hierarchy by modern standards, Confucius still portrayed the "proper role" for such a relationship to be one friend being deferential and the other to be considerate. Other important Confucian ideas include li, the proper observation of traditional rituals, ren, "humanity", often expressed by a negative version of the Golden Rule ("Do not do to others as you would not have done to yourself") and filial piety, respect for one's ancestors, and the traditional worship of ancestors in the Chinese folk religion.
Of the three pillars of Chinese thought, Confucianism was considered the one most important for public events and the public persona. By contrast, Taoism was for private life, while Buddhism was for the afterlife. The Confucian emphasis on social conformity, mutual obligations, and respect for authority remain strong forces in East Asian societies.
Confucianism as religion
Confucianism is sometimes identified as a religion, and the existence of temples to Confucius in China and other East Asian countries would seem to support this. However, in contrast to conventional Western ideas about religion, Confucianism does not explicitly contain concepts such as supernatural explanations, a specific belief in the afterlife (see Lúnyǔ (论语) 11:11) or holy rituals, and is equally compatible with religious beliefs such as Daoism, Buddhism and Shinto, or with secular world views such as communism; indeed, it could be argued that the five constant virtues of Confucianism, namely: benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and loyalty make Confucianism quite compatible with, or even a version of, humanism. Maoism is sometimes interpreted as a blend of Marxism and Confucianism.
Traditionally, Confucianism sees religious practice as beneficial to society. Confucianism exists in the context of a long tradition of Chinese folk religion that regards deceased family members as the most accessible functionaries in a vast celestial bureaucracy, and Confucius himself as well as later Confucian thinkers encouraged participation in folk religious practices. The concept of "ritual propriety" (lǐ (礼)), meaning that an individual's interactions are in accordance with traditional mores, was cited as the most important virtue by the Confucian thinker Xúnzǐ (荀子) (313-238 BCE). This emphasis causes Confucianism to trend strongly conservative, and so traditional Confucianism greatly encourages religious practice. More modern thinkers who have been heavily influenced by Maoism frequently reject religion, but as Confucianism itself makes no explicitly supernatural claims this rejection is still generally considered orthodox.
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Developed during the Tang dynasty (618-907), neo-Confucianism
was created developed as a rationalist form of Confucianism, and takes a naturalist stance. This philosophy essentially blends a secular humanism with radical traditionalism. The neo-Confucian version of Confucianism emerged as a reaction to the supernaturalistic beliefs in Taoism and Buddhism having slowly syncretised with the traditional philosophy of Confucianism. Neo-Confucianism is effectively the state "religion" of many Maoist regimes, and became the state religion of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897) in Korea.
Because of the supposedly small number of primary sources about his life, Confucius is used as a counterexample in the debate over the Historicity of Jesus. In fact, if you count every single epistle as a different source, Jesus has a lot more sources, which are also a lot closer in time to his death, and yet the historicity of Confucius is never put in doubt by anyone. Disregard the fact that Confucius was a government official, with a detailed list of descendants that was kept up to this day, and his life story is not centered around claims of supernatural events. Checkmate atheists!