Comparing the Views of Confucius and Aristotle
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Virtue is the habitual, well-established, readiness or disposition of man’s powers directing them to some goodness of act. Virtue is moral excellence of a man or a woman. As applied to humans, a virtue is a good character trait. It is something practiced at all times. The virtue of perseverance is needed for all and any virtue since it is a habit of character and must be used continuously in order for any person to maintain oneself in virtue (“Virtue”). There are two famous philosophers that have many views on the subject of virtue and they are Confucius and Aristotle.
Their teachings lead a lot of people into a better life or as Confucius said the practice of right living. (“Confucius-Lecture on Confucius and Self Knowledge”) Confucius was born in 551 B. C. , in at that time was called Lu, which is now the province of Shang-tung. His father was an elderly warrior who married a young peasant girl to have a son. Confucius from the young age of three had to labor for his family due to his father’s death. Because of his natural aptitude for learning, he still managed to find time to purse his studies (“Confucianism”). At the age of seventy-two in the year 479 B.C.
Confucius woke early walked outside his home in Qufu, as legend tells us, and tells his disciples he wished to speak no more. He then went inside laid down and died seven days later (Freedman pp. 33-34) Aristotle was born around 200 years after Confucius in the year of 384 B. C. in Stagira, a “Grecian colony. His father was a court physician to the King Amyntas of Macedonia. It is believed that his purse of studies is due to his father’s influence of practicing medicine (“Aristotle”). He died at his country house at Chalcis, in Euboea at the age of sixty-two years old in the year of 322 B. C.
He died to an illness he suffered from for a long period of time. There were legends that told his death to be because of hemlock poisoning, as well as another legend, it was said he couldn’t explain the tides so he threw himself into the sea (“Aristotle”). Confucius’ ideals about virtue are very long and complicated indeed, as well as Aristotle’s ideals. They both are alike in a lot of their views but they are different in others. Confucius himself did not make any pretension to possess virtue and wisdom in their fullness as he had stated, but his love of virtue and wisdom there is no question.
He was a man of affection, sympathetic and most considerate of others (“Confucianism”). According to Confucius the morally superior person from birth should possess five inner virtues and acquire two outer ones. The five virtues are righteousness, inner integrity, love of humanity, altruism, and loyalty. One should also acquire culture and a sense of decorum (Cunningham, Lawrence and Reich p. 184). Aristotle was a man a high-minded, kind hearted man devoted to his family and his friends. He was a man who followed the ideals he outlined in his ethical treatises (“Aristotle”).
He had out of all the Greek moralists, the most psychologically insightful account of virtuous character (“Moral Character”). Aristotle’s ideals of virtue were wisdom, gentleness, courage, sobriety, self-control, righteousness and liberality (“Aristotle, Virtues and Vices”). Confucius and Aristotle did believe the same way about some things. Confucius believed that people were born good, but their bad environment is what caused them to be evil and to not live with virtue (“Confucianism”).
Aristotle did believe in a similar idea in that to folly belongs bad judgment of affairs, bad counsel, bad fellowship, bad use of one’s resources, false opinions about what is good in life (“Aristotle, Virtues and Vices”). They both thought that people were led astray from being a virtuous person by the wrong kind of influences in their environments. Both of them also believed to be virtuous you needed self-love. Confucius taught people to make ones’ self as good as possible. The practice of goodness needed to be sought after and made use of in one’s life.
He taught that vice came from ignorance and knowledge led to virtue (“Confucianism”). Aristotle tried tirelessly to distinguish true self-love from vulgar self-love, which can make you morally defective. A person with true self-love is able to recognize and enjoy the value of developing their rational powers which they can use to guide their decisions. They in turn acquire practical wisdom. Now that they know practical wisdom they can take pleasure in appropriate things which in turn they can avoid common vices and act as virtuous person would (“Moral Character”).
The last similarity I want to discuss is their belief in having friends. In Confucius’ recorded sayings he recognized the value of good, high-minded companions. His motto was to associate with the truly great and make friends with the most virtuous (“Confucianism”). Aristotle believed that people need to associate with a group of companions who share similar interests and aims, and who provoke us to think more and to achieve a greater understanding of what we learn in life. When we develop friendly feelings for others we care about their well-being.
So once the friendship bonds are formed we naturally exhibit social virtues (“Moral Character”). There are some differences between Confucius and Aristotle. One difference in their views is Confucius’ belief in filial piety. He believed it was the root of all virtue. In which it prompted the son to love and respect his parents, contribute to their comfort, and to bring honor and happiness to their name by honorable success in life (“Confucianism”). After the parents, people were supposed to worship their ancestors, then have respect for their elders, and loyalty to rulers (Cunningham, Lawrence and Reich p. 184).
Aristotle did not believe in putting your parents first. He believed first were people’s duties to the gods, then to the spirits, then those to the country and parents, then those departed (“Aristotle, Virtues and Vices”). Confucius also had a different view on being born with virtue. He believed a person is born with virtue and they have all five inner virtues which are righteousness, inner integrity, love of humanity, altruism, and loyalty (Cunningham, Lawrence and Reich p. 184). Aristotle did not believe the same way about being born with virtue. He believed there were two kinds of virtue, moral and intellectual.
His belief was that intellectual virtue owes both its birth and growth to teaching and moral virtue was due to a result of habit which meant nothing comes to us by nature (“Nicomachean Ethics”). Confucius did not use religion in his ideals of virtue. He felt it came from within people. He once said, “Not yet understanding life, how can we understand death? ”, when it came to speculation of God and the afterlife (Cunningham, Lawrence and Reich p. 184). He did although approve of religious ceremonies that honored the ancestors and reminded people of their unity with those from before them (Freedman p. 0) which coincides with his belief to be virtuous you need to worship your ancestors (Cunningham, Lawrence and Reich p. 184). Aristotle on the other hand did believe that there is a connection to religion and virtue. He believed the path to virtue through righteousness was first to be dutiful to the gods and then to the spirits. Righteousness is also accompanied by holiness, truth, loyalty, and hatred of wickedness. (“Aristotle, Virtues and Vices”). The teachings of Confucius still flourish in today’s society even though it’s been 2500 years since he lived.
Even though Confucius never wrote down his teachings they were still by his written down by his disciples after his death in a book called Lun Yu (Freedman p. 8). His beliefs have spread throughout the world by Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century (Freedman p. 38). It spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Japan which was remarkable since Confucianism has no monks, missionaries, or pilgrims to spread his thoughts (Hoobler, Thomas and Dorothy p. 52). During the time frame of thirteen years when Aristotle taught at his school, called Lyceum, he composed his writings into dialogues (“Aristotle”).
He taught the young conqueror Alexander and thereafter his writings were lost and not recovered until the 1st century B. C. During the middle ages they were translated into Latin and Arabic and became a basis for Christian theology (Cunningham, Lawrence and Reich p. 80). In 2000 years no one has came close to his brilliance except for Leonardo da Vinci (Cunningham, Lawrence and Reich p. 81). Confucius and Aristotle had very similar views on the topic of virtue. They were both equally brilliant men for their way of thinking in their era.
Even though they lived two hundred years apart and lived in two very different areas in the world, one would believe they had communicated with each other on the issue of virtue. In their own right, each philosopher had knowledge on such extraordinary topics from virtue to metaphysics. Their teachings have withstood the test of time and war. In this modern society their beliefs are still practiced, especially Confucianism in Asian countries. From what I have learned from researching these two great philosophers I found Confucius to be more enlightening than Aristotle.
Confucius’ sayings had more of an impact on my way of thinking. One of his analects is about treating others as you would have them treat you and that is a quote I have tried to live by throughout my life. I guess I grew up hearing that saying without knowing that it probably originated with an ancient Chinese philosopher named Confucius. It is fascinating that one man, who thought of himself as a failure when he died, contributed so much wisdom to so many people throughout the centuries even until present day.