Aristotle and Confucius Teachings on Virtue
Aristotle and Confucius were philosophers from very distinct and distinguishable backgrounds. Confucius ideas and teachings were bred from his presence and immersion in the Chinese culture. Aristotle’s ideas and teachings on the other hand were generated from his presence and immersion in the Greek culture. Both philosophers touched on similar as well as dissimilar subjects, among them the concept of virtue. By comparing the teaching of these individuals on the concept of virtue, some similarities and differences will be comprehended. This information will be essential in determining the divergences that exist between the Greek and the Chinese cultures. The information will also be vital in suggesting ideas that could be applied to ethics in modern settings.
The study of virtue or good ethical conduct and character takes Aristotle and Confucius’s ethical writings as important paradigms. Aristotle thinking on virtues and ethics contrasts the moral philosophy of the modern western. For instance, it starts with by reflecting on the life of human beings as a whole rather than starting with some moral acts (Aristoteles & Ross, 2006). It tends to concentrate on character and virtue rather than on rules and principles. Confucius shares in this way of doing ethics. He seeks to determine the way of becoming a good person in humans, in other words the human dao. Also according to Confucius, for a person to be good he/she has to cultivate a dispositional character. Dispositional character generally means virtue.
Through elaborating the way in which a person can be good by fostering the growth virtue within him or her, Confucius contemplates on and talks about issues such as human nature and its nature (Norden, 2001). He also contemplates and discusses the role of traditions and social customs, the doctrine of mean, moral education and self-cultivation, family, love, moral emotion and reasoning, virtue politics, and so on. Aristotle theory of virtues also pays attention to these fundamental themes. To a great magnitude, ethics that were developed by Aristotle have been considered as model in contemporary value ethics. This is as a result of the importance of these ethical concerns that have been marginalized or left out in prevalent modern moral theories.
The revitalization of ethics by Aristotle is primarily an academic phenomenon while that of Confucius seems to possess broad dimensions in social and cultural aspects. All the same these two revitalizations share a like criticism target, i.e. modern western morality and enlightment values. The philosophical orientation of the teachings by Aristotle and Confucius is the same, i.e. virtue approach to ethics. Nevertheless, there still exist some major differences between their ethical thinking. For instance, some ethical teachings by Confucius focus on moral acts, while ethics by Aristotle pertain to the goodness of the whole life of the agent. In addition, to some extent, Confucius’s ethics regards ethical task to formulate principles and rules for governing moral acts. On the other hand, Aristotle’s ethics focus on a person’s virtue and character that he/she must possess so as to live a happy life and to prosper. The value attributable to an action can only be evaluated when the value is related to an agent’s character.
Similarities can be comprehended between the teachings of Confucius and those of Aristotle on virtue and ethics, as they were both concerned with individuals’ moral character and applying moral ethics in political life. However, the ideas by Confucius concerning contemplation are closer to present-day psychological ideas than those of Aristotle. Therefore, Confucius ideas are more accessible, as his contemplation view seeks to look inward at the deepest inner self (Chang, 2008). Confucius was also a firm believer in self-examination and self-knowledge as a path to the uprightness of morals.
Unlike Aristotle, Confucius argued that wellbeing in the form of fulfillment and success is possible even when individuals face misfortunes and adversity. He learned this through his personal experience. Aristotle’s reasoning on contemplation as the most effective means for individuals to achieve high morals also acquires validity when either Confucian or Pythagorean views of contemplation are taken. However, Aristotle’s conclusion is not as clear as that of Confucius.
The difference between Confucius and Aristotle’s teachings on virtue and ethics is founded on the cultural difference between the ancient china and ancient Greece. The origin of Chinese philosophy is not to eliminate ignorance through the satisfaction of wonder, but rather to search where the human virtue is during a period when the old systems and orders are collapsed. Greek philosophy on the other hand aims at generating and composing a natural world. Aristotle broadens the philosophical path by proceeding to inquire and construct systems with epistemology and metaphysics as their core. However, in the Chinese philosophy, the ethical interests by Confucius determine his followers’ philosophizing scope where they challenge or defend his position (Norden, 2001). The Chinese philosophy is not extended to politics and ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. A great contrast between preoccupations of the Chinese with practical affairs of the Greek’s interest in theoretical pursuit is well expressed. Greeks are preoccupied with foundational questions, ready to counter extreme solutions to theoretical issues. The Chinese on the other hand demonstrate tendencies that focus on practicalities.
Moral choices inculcate most aspects of life, whether known or unknown. It is therefore important to learn from philosopher like Aristotle to emphasize the role of character and virtue instead of doing individual duties or acting to produce good consequences. The best moral advice for the people living in the modern setting is to always act in a manner in which a virtuous person would act suppose he/she was in a similar situation. For people to be virtuous, then they must acquire excellent character traits. A god example of such traits is portraying kindness in all situations. Reasoning should always be a component of individuals’ lives just as Aristotle argues that the life worth living is one that people reason well.
Aristoteles, & Ross, W. D. (2006). The Nicomachean ethics of Aristotle. London: Oxford Univ. Press.
Chang, L. (2008). Aristotle on happiness: A comparison with Confucius. Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller.
Norden, B. V. (2001). Confucius and the Analects: New Essays. New York: Oxford University Press.