Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy (Key Concepts Series)

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The ancient period

Gentleness on the part of the elder brother, and obedience on that of the younger. Righteousness on the part of the husband, and submission on that of the wife. Kindness on the part of elders, and reverence on that of the juniors. Benevolence on the part of the ruler, and loyalty on that of the minister.

These ten are the things which people consider to be right. With each of these five relationships, the subordinate person is duty bound to show obedience, and the superior person to show kindness. By respecting parents we will respect elders in general, and by doing this we will be less likely to stir up confusion and thereby undermine social order, either in or outside of the home. Virtually all cultures stress the obligations that children have to respect and obey their parents and, to that extent, this value is not a Confucian invention.

Like other virtues, though, Confucius gives a unique twist to this one by emphasizing the importance of having the proper attitude in fulfilling this duty, rather than simply abiding by the letter of the law. But dogs and horses also are able to do something in the way of support. Without reverence, what is there to distinguish the one support given from the other?

The respect that we have for our parents while they are alive continues in the form of ancestral veneration when they die, and requires that we perform various sacrificial duties. This highlights the obligation that parents are under to cultivate a proper sense of morality within themselves and thus avoid forcing this dilemma on their children.

Turning next to the ruler-subject relationship, Confucius saw himself as a political reformer, and he held that good governing consists of the ruler setting the moral example for the whole country. His goodness will trickle down through the various layers of social hierarchy, and the whole country will prosper when he is benevolent. What, though, must the ruler himself do to acquire virtue? Confucius lists five kinds of actions that will lead to good government:.

The classical period

First on this list is beneficence, and, to display this, the ruler does not necessarily have to actively shower his subjects with luxuries. Instead, the ruler can emphasize things from which people naturally benefit, such as efficient governmental programs and honest governmental administrators. A musician, for example, should not be forced to work as an accountant.

Third, a ruler can unselfishly pursue what he desires when he restricts his desires to cultivating a good government. Fourth, without being arrogant, he should carry himself with dignity with everything and everyone he comes in contact with.

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Fifth, without being fierce, a ruler should appear majestic in everything that he does — right down to how he places a cap on his head. According to this work, good government is a matter of rulers exhibiting their clear character to the world, that is, displaying their virtue as a model for others to follow. How does the ruler acquire clear character? The Great Learning , tells us that there are eight causal links that culminate in clear character and effective governing. The underlying theme of these eight steps is intense moral and philosophical reflection:.

The ancients who wished to exhibit their clear character to the world first brought order to their states. Wishing to order their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their personal lives. Wishing to cultivate their personal lives, they first corrected their minds. Wishing to correct their minds, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.

Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge rests in investigating things. He confronted rival philosophical schools, typically those that emphasized human selfishness. Mencius believed that governments should be run through exemplary conduct, with goodness as the goal. According to Mencius, our minds and hearts house our inherent tendency towards moral goodness. Evil, he believes, results from bad social influences that reduce our natural moral strength.

Mencius presents this idea in a conversation between himself and a skeptical philosopher named Kao. Kao argues that human nature is neither good nor bad, but can be molded either way, just as we can mold a piece of wood into different things. We would thus be forced to see moral virtues such as benevolence and righteousness as distortions of who we are.

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Mencius asks,. Without touching the nature of the tree, can you make it into cups and bowls? You must do violence and injury to the tree before you can make cups and bowls with it. If you must do violence and injury to the tree in order to make cups and bowls with it, on your principles you must in the same way do violence and injury to humaneness in order to fashion from it benevolence and righteousness. Thus, your words would certainly lead all people on to consider benevolence and righteousness to be calamities. As the conversation continues, Kao insists that human nature is neither inherently good nor inherently evil.

But, just as we might redirect the flow of water east or west, society is capable of directing our nature towards good or towards evil. But Mencius rejects this analogy too, and argues that human nature possesses potential goodness, just as the nature of water is to flow down hill:.

Water indeed will flow indifferently to the east or west, but will it flow indifferently up or down?

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The tendency of human nature to do good is like the tendency of water to flow downwards. All people have this tendency to good, just as all water flows downwards. Now, by striking water and causing it to leap up, you may make it go over your forehead, and, by damming and leading it, you may force it up a hill.

But are such movements according to the nature of water? It is the force applied which causes them. When people are made to do what is not good, their nature is dealt with in this way. Mencius tells us exactly what our inherently good nature consists of. First, he argues that we naturally have four specific moral virtues, namely, commiseration, shame, respect, and approval.

Second, these four virtues naturally give rise to others, namely humaneness, righteousness, ritual conduct, knowledge. According to one story, as Lao-tzu was leaving his home town, the city gatekeeper was sorry to see the great master go and asked that he write a book of his views by which people could remember him. Lao-tzu sat down on the spot and composed the Dao De Jing.

Unlike the Dao de Jing, the Chuang-Tzu is not a political treatise.

  1. Coolie.
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  4. Intended for a more general readership, it is composed in a popular style with vivid stories and parables. I will never take office. We also find an anecdote about his burial plans, which highlight the theme of naturalness in Daoism:. When Chuang-tzu was about to die, his disciples indicated their wish to give him a grand burial. Will not the provisions for my burial be complete? What could you add to them? We will look at some of the more prominent themes that appear in both the Dao De Jing and the Chuang-tzu.

    The notion of the Dao is the central concept in Daoism. An initial obstacle to understanding the concept of the Dao is that it has an unspeakable mystical quality and cannot be defined. We see this in the opening and most famous passage of the book:. The Dao that can be named is not the eternal and unchanging Dao. The name that can be spoken is not the eternal and unchanging name.

    The nameless is the source of heaven and earth.

    Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy

    The named is the mother of all things. Always be without desires and you will see mystery. Always be with desire, and you will see only its effects. These two are really the same, although, as development takes place, they receive the different names. They are both a mystery, and where mystery is the deepest we find the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful. It is an indescribable source of all existence, and we grasp the Dao only by mystically experiencing its subtlety.

    From the start, the Dao De Jing advocates a non-intellectual and even anti -intellectual approach. We should abandon hopes of finding an adequate verbal description of the Dao , and instead psychologically realign ourselves so that we are not driven by our desires. With no mental conceptions or desires to muddy the waters, we then allow the Dao to exhibit itself through our own lives, and we can recognize its presence in the natural world around us.

    Another passage early on in the Dao De Jing states that the indescribable nature of the Dao is like an empty vessel, which we should never try to fill with concrete descriptions that will invariably misrepresent it:. The Dao is like the emptiness of a vessel; and in our employment of it we must be on our guard against all fullness. How deep and unfathomable it is, as if it were the honored ancestor of all things.


    We should blunt our sharp points, and unravel the complications of things; we should dim our brightness, and bring ourselves into agreement with the obscurity of others. How pure and still the Dao is, as if it would continue forever. I do not know whose son it is. It might appear to have been before God. To understand it, we must take an approach that is opposite to what we might expect. For example, we typically learn about things through our senses of sight, hearing, or touch. But the Dao lacks any sensory qualities that might enable us to perceive it in those ways.

    It is formless.

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    What is its appearance?