Confucius: 3 Ways This Philosopher Impacted The World

Born551 BC
Died479 BC
Famous Quote“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”
Known ForForming the basis of east Asian philosophy, political science and sociology.
Area Of WorldEast Asia, China

Two centuries before Aristotle taught in the west a man was teaching in the east. His name was Confucius and his philosophical teachings persist to this day across the world.

Confucius lived in modern-day China during the Zhou dynasty in the vassal state of Lu. Living to the old age of 72 Confucius spent his entire life learning and teaching. Due to this, he is considered the epitome of the great Chinese sages.

Confucius would write and teach about many aspects of life including proper ethics, government, society, music, and poetry. So influential were his teachings that for over 2,000 years Confucian principles influenced culture across Asia.

Out of the myriad of ways Confucius impacted the world here are the top 3.

  • Creation of a humanistic ethical code
  • Creation of an ethically driven proto-democratic state
  • Responsible for bolstering the arts

To this day historians and philosophers argue about the nature of Confucius’s teachings. While many people think that Confucianism is a religion its sayings, proverbs, and morality is more aligned with philosophy instead.

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Without further ado, here are the top 3 ways Confucius impacted the world.

1.) Creation Of a Humanistic Ethical Code

Much of what we know about Confucius’s teachings come from the Analects. This 20-chapter book outlines everything needed to effectively run one’s life and the state.

Out of these 20 chapters Confucius strived to create an ethical code that governed everyday life. This ethical code was built around humanism, a concept that strived to place human life and the common human good above all else.

A famous quote from the Analects that demonstrates this would be the following:

“When the stables were burnt down, on returning from court Confucius said, “Was anyone hurt?” He did not ask about the horses.”

Analects, X.11

The whole purpose of Confucius’s ethical code was to instill a higher moral code across the populace of east Asia based around humanism. This moral code in turn would have the population focusing more on their ethics and emulating ethically higher people in their own lives.

To Confucius ethics were the most important thing in life. It helped everyone live in harmony with each other. That the average person would emulate their ethics from those above them and that the most ethnically pure person would be the leader of society.

This was the east’s version of Virtue Ethics. Except here Confucius is laying the groundwork for the creation of a state dominated by an ethical foundation.

Over 2,000 years Confucius’s philosophy and ethical theory would come to dominate east Asia. Society for a long time was shaped around state-sanctioned ethics, and the average person would then emulate these.

To this day people all over the world are influenced by this ethical theory.

2.) Creation Of An Ethically Driven Proto-Democratic State

One of the lasting impacts of Confucius has been the creation of several large states in the east over the course of history.

From Confucius’s ethical theory stemmed his political theory. To Confucius the act of creating a strong central government was natural. The leader of this new state would be the most ethical person, a sage.

In turn, this sage would strive to provide his subjects with the best possible life. The subjects would emulate the ruler’s ethics.

Confucius argues that this state was based on natural morality. A set of moral principles built to benefit the people and society.

The ruler would have to be the most honest and upstanding person in the land. Truth and honesty would have to be shown at all waking moments by the ruler. If the ruler ever failed to be the most ethical person in the land then they could be replaced.

As a result, Confucius’s political theory created a state driven by natural human ethics that could be considered proto-democratic in nature.

To Confucius, the people would emulate the ethics of their superiors and at the end of this emulation chain would lie the ruler sage. This sage would naturally rise through the social ranks to eventually lead the people.

If this ruler ever failed to uphold this ethical line another would rise to become more ethical thus disposing the ruler to provide for the people.

Confucian ideals allowed for the creation of massive states in the east such as Imperial China, Tokugawa Japan, Josean Korea, and Vietnam.

This political theory set forth by Confucius continues to influence people to this day. In the west a similar concept can be seen in Plato’s concept of the Philosopher King, however Confucius was the first to write about society being led by a wise ruler.

3.) Responsible For Bolstering The Arts

To Confucius one of the main mediums for which to translate the ethics of the state was the arts. This included music, poetry, painting, and plays. In turn, the common person would be able to emulate the higher ethics of society as seen through art. As a result of this, the entire state in Confucius’s eyes would become stronger.

What’s interesting is that anybody in society could create art to reflect their ethics. The ruler of Confucian society could then view this art and see what the common man would want to see come from their ruler. This art would in turn cause the ruler to reflect upon their own ethics. This circle of ethics allowed for a refinement of society in Confucius’s eyes.

Historian Patricia Ebery puts forth the theory in her 1993 book Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook that this provided a check and balance upon a Confucian society.

Art created by the common man could demonstrate a loss of faith in the higher level of ethics provided and demonstrated by the ruler. Further, since this art would demonstrate to a ruler exactly what the common man was experiencing, the ruler could in turn work to benefit the people. If the ruler either failed to serve the people or reflect their ethics then naturally they would be deposed. This was a democracy of ethics.

As a result of this hyper-focus on art Confucian started a revival across the east in the arts. Modern Chinese Confucian philosopher Yáo Xīnzhōng in his book The Encyclopedia of Confucianism demonstrates how much Confucian art influenced culture across the east Asian sphere.

One thing is certain however, Confucian art was a way of demonstrating ethics in accordance with nature. That this art would play into the formation of the state and provide a check and balance while also allowing a head of state to help the common people.

Due to this, we can see a massive revival of the arts in east Asia caused by Confucius. To this day we can feel the effects of this art in temples, books, paintings, poems, and sculptures.

Conclusion

In the west philosophers such as Plato, Voltaire, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, and Friedrich Niche would shape society. However in the east long before them existed a philosopher named Confucius whose teachings would impact billions.

In the end, the true extent of Confucius’s impact is still being studied by historians today. His theories on the ethical state of man, a state driven by ethics, and the role of art to provide checks and balances while also helping to govern are unique to him.

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Until next time, I hope you find history as intriguing as always.

Sincerely,

Nick