Last year, I discovered the writings of the American historian, writer, and philosopher, Will Durant, and fell in love with his books. The first book I bought was The Lessons of History, and I became so enthralled by it that I finished this short 128-page book in one sitting. He doesn’t write like a history professor dictating a dry college textbook. Instead, he writes with great wit and fluency and keeps you wanting to read more. Of all of his writings, his masterpiece was perhaps the Story of Civilization- an eleven-volume history of civilization that he spent over a half a century researching and writing.
In it, he wrote that one of the greatest thinkers of civilization was Confucious and how his philosophy impacted many around the world. Born in 552 BC, Confucious was a Chinese teacher, a politician, and a philosopher. Durant highlights a paragraph written by Confucious that perfectly sums up Confucianism ethics and political philosophy that helped restore harmony and order back to China after factional strife threatened the country:
“The illustrious ancients, when they wished to make clear and to propagate the highest virtues in the world, put their states in proper order. Before putting their states in proper order, they regulated their families. Before regulating their families, they cultivated their own selves. Before cultivating their own selves, they perfected their souls. Before perfecting their souls, they tried to be sincere in their thoughts. Before trying to be sincere in their thoughts, they extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such investigation of knowledge lay in the investigation of things, and in seeing them as they really were.
When things were thus investigated, knowledge became complete. When knowledge became complete, their thoughts became sincere. When their thoughts were sincere, their souls became perfect. When their souls were perfect, their own selves became cultivated. When their selves were cultivated, their families became regulated. When their families were regulated, their states came to be put into proper order. When their states were in proper order, then the whole world became peaceful and happy.”
You can see from this section that the moral philosophy of Confucious shared similarities to that of Socrates. When Confucious states “When things were thus investigated, knowledge became complete” he distills his argument down to this one point: To obtain peace and happiness, one must investigate their world and discover knowledge by seeing things how they really are. This is similar to Socrates’ argument that the “unexamined life is not worth living,” and how we can not live a good life unless we first deeply examine our lives and our world.
Also, you can appreciate similarities of Confucious with that of the philosophy of the Stoics. That is to obtain harmony of your environment, you must first start with controlling and mastering yourself. Like the Stoics, self-regulation, virtue, and personal reflection were also essential characteristics of Confucianism in order to bring harmony to yourself and the world you live in.