Editor Ken Wolf, at the beginning of the essay Confucius and Plato: A Few Really Good People, poses the question: “What is the best way to create a strong society? ” (Wolf 25) It was surprising to a novice student of philosophy how similar the ideas of the ancient Chinese sage Confucius and famous Greek philosopher Plato were. Although, Confucius and Plato both made major contributions to the development of society, they showed both similarities and differences in these three subjects: ruling class, education, and faith in humanity.
Confucius and Plato both believed virtue and intelligence were key components to creating a strong society. Confucius thought anyone who has been educated had the capability to develop into a ruler. Whereas Plato assumed anyone could be educated, but only a few, those in the ruling class had the ability to reason and thus were qualified to rule. In addition, Plato gave credence to the idea of being born into the ruling class, that the quality to reason was an inherited quality. Confucius and Plato were both strong believers that order was another main factor in a strong society.
Although they both had laws to maintain the order, Plato had less faith in people in general to behave in a civilized manner. Both Confucius and Plato were in favor of education and were teachers themselves. Confucius’s followers were the ones who wrote the Analects, which talked about how civilization depends on “humanity” and “propriety”. Plato actually wrote The Republic which talked about his ideal “philosopher-king”. Plato established the Academy, which taught principles of ethics and government, for 900 years. Confucius attempted to teach the ruler to become a better person, but failed.
The concepts put forth by Confucius and Plato begin to differ more when faith in humanity comes into play. Confucius and Plato both wanted to think there was good in everyone, but Confucius believed more in a “…society in which human relationships—especially those within the family—were more important than laws. ” (Wolf 27) Plato concluded that the people needed to be controlled for there to be order. That control was maintained through the law. They both sought out peace and harmony, although Confucius focused more on the behavior of individuals and Plato was interested in universal truth even though it probably would not be accepted,.
Plato felt that if a person tried to bring enlightenment to the masses “…they would probably try to kill to him for telling such tall tales, disrupting their lives and challenging their accustomed beliefs. ” (Wolf 31) Even today, most people would agree with Confucius and Plato about the importance of educating people in the development of a strong society. The idea of relationships as the basis of society may be summed up in: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
” This Golden Rule seems to be as important to Western society as it was to Chinese society. However, the idea of a better quality of citizen that is better suited to lead society smacks of elitism and would definitely not be accepted in modern democracies. However, that does not mean that the elite educated class from Harvard and Yale has not been overrepresented in American leadership. So perhaps we have a ruling elite, but not as overt as Plato would like. A final thought from the essay would be: a harmonious and orderly existence is important to all societies.
Courtney from Study Moose
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