China has one of the longest histories in ancient world history. As civilization developed, so did ideas about religion, knowledge, values, society, and the world. Three of the most famous ones were the Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism. There are many different and similar ideas in these three philosophies. Confucianism has many characteristics and ideas for life and social order. It came from the teachings of a Chinese philosopher named Confucius, or Kongzi. His students recorded all his teachings in a book called the Analects, which mainly focused on social and family relationships (4).
Confucius believed that respect for others was necessary for peace within society. Confucius thought that human nature is morally neutral, and it is peoples’ choices in their later lives that determine if they are good or bad (1). Two of Confucius’s students, Mencius and Xunzi, argued about whether humans are born good or evil. Mencius believed that humans are inevitably good (1). If one is bad, or “lacks a mind that knows right and wrong,” one would not even be considered human (1). Xunzi’s ideas were more similar to Legalists, who thought that humans were naturally evil.
Confucius believed that everyone had his/her own Dao, the way to proper behavior (3). If everyone followed his/her Dao, and were respectful to others, social order would follow. Legalism had very different ideas from Confucianism. Instead of respect for others, Legalists believed that strict laws and harsh punishments were the key to social order. What’s different from Xunzi’s ideas and Legalism was that Legalists thought humans were born evil (4), while Xunzi thought that humans may be born good, but will always turn out bad (1).
Legalists disagreed with many of Confucius’s ideas. For example, they didn’t think that the universe has a moral core and everything will end up good. Legalists thought that only firm action with strict laws from the government would bring social order (3). Legalists also disagreed with the Confucianists view of how society’s problems could be solved by a government with “superior men”, and wanted laws that made people afraid to do wrong, instead (3). Daoism (or Taoism) was founded by LaoZi (Old Master). Scholars don’t know for sure if he really existed or not.
The Daodejing recorded all of his teachings. Unlike Confucianism and Legalism, Daoists care more about natural order than social order (4). They thought that the government should just leave people alone. They believe that if people can live in harmony with nature and their inner feelings, social order will naturally come (4). Daoists thought that arguments about right or wrong are pointless and people should just accept things as they are (4). Like Confucianism, Daoists also had to follow their own individual Dao, or way, though the concepts are a bit different.
They believe that one must find their individual Dao to relate to nature and each other (4). Another important aspect of Daoism is the Yin and Yang. It is the concept of how there is no dark without light, and no light without dark. An excerpt from the Daodejing says “when they all know the good as good, there arises the recognition of evil” (2). Confucianists thought that that people had to work hard to make earth a better place, while Daoists thought that its isn’t action but inaction and letting nature take its course that will help people achieve harmony with the universe and to find the will of Heaven (3).
Although there are many differences between Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism, there are also many similarities. They all want to have social order, though through different ways. All the philosophies’ ideas were recorded in a book. For Confucianism it’s the Analects. For Daoism it’s the Daodejing, and even though Xunzi was a Confucianist, his book, The Book of Xunzi, talks about Legalism ideas. Daoism and Confucianism both believe that each person has an individual Dao to follow. These three philosophies of ancient China have its own interesting characteristics and ideas.
Although they have many differences, the three different philosophies are tied together by one goal: to have peace in society. These philosophies guided rulers in ancient China and helped them achieve social order. Even now, thousands of years later, you can still see some of their characteristics in the modern world. Bibliography The Essential World History pg. 63 “A Debate Over Good and Evil” The Essential World History pg. 64 “The Daoist Answer to Confucianism” The Essential World History pg 61-64 World History: Ancient to Modern Times Chapter 6 Section 2 (pg. 153-157).
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