Chinese Philosophy Essay
Human being is by nature a dynamic being, whose tendency to evolve is manifest in history, archeology and other disciplines that have put human development and progress in focus in the course of evolution and so does the society / community in which he resides. Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, once stated; “As they step into the same rivers, different and still different waters flow upon them” (qtd. in Snooks 1). In line with this saying, we may say that change is something that is part of nature.
Many of the activities of communities can address, embrace or resist change. In order to manage the various incidents and conditions that are experienced by man and his society, various instruments and frameworks are devised. In the case of the Chinese society, a number of philosophical standpoints were developed in a bid to confront the challenges facing China. This paper endeavors to examine Confucianism, Daoism, Mohism and Legalism as the instruments put in place by the Chinese in response to the wars that China was experiencing, especially in regard to leadership in a society.
Confucianism Confucianism puts quality on the ability of the human being to achieve, through self introspective processes, a state of inner harmony and moral uprightness, which can elevate the individual from the stables of a common person to a noble person. Confucias (541 – 479 BCE) was China’s first moral philosopher who linked moral behavior to traditional roles and hierarchies. He linked the Zhou order that was deteriorating and believed that all should understand and accept their role in the society.
This system of thought is good in so far as it has faith in the human being as being capable of managing his own destiny, and being able to change for the better. Confucianism gives an individual member of the society a chance to take responsibility for creating and maintaining harmony in the society, by having it entrenched in the individual countenance that recognizes nobility as a state that can be achieved by an individual, without anybody being able to gain it through ascription or inheritance and this is not closely attached to the exercise of political power per se (Barry et al. 24)
In China where many communities were vying for political dominance, Confucianism offered a window for the restoration of order through self cultivation, oriented toward achieving a noble state, in spite of the person’s social extraction. This, as a philosophy that sought to bring harmony in the warring Chinese society, worked toward the establishment of personal moral uprightness, which in turn would affect the way people related to one another, especially in their relation to leadership.
If the society regarded nobility highly, then the noble people, having cultivated themselves effectively; would have their influence in the society to steer clear of war, or to effectively lead the people in better battle campaigns against their adversaries. If on the other hand, the Chinese society was to transform itself into a nation of noble people according to Confucian principles, then everybody would maintain the peace, because people would look at each other with more humility and kindness.
The Confucian noble is thus, one who is able to provide leadership without really reigning or ruling. Confucianism can also be seen as a direct response to insensitive leadership during the war period, and thus, a system to try and impress the virtue of good leadership amongst the rulers of the time (86). This was done in such a way that it did not threaten as much, the social structures prevalent then, hence the Confucian recognition of the social hierarchies, and insistence on the citizenry to uphold respect for the superiors.
Of course, war is a period when it matters to positively receive instruction and commands from the superiors. Daoism While Confucianism promotes the practice of self improvement in line with the argument based on natural evolution of the human species, Daoism on the other hand places all human effort in the search for knowledge and purposeful transformation in the realm of vanity. Daoists wanted the governments not to override their lives and were interested in the spiritual aspect of human existence. The temptation to dismiss this school of thought prima facie is quite high.
This is due to the natural orientation of man to take responsibility of his destiny and the natural tendency to seek a better life, to marvel at nature and to try to influence it so as to satisfy personal needs. In that respect, one would expect that a working formula has to emphasize man’s rationality and his wants and needs, as the central pillars of his push toward creating his own history and having dominion over his environment. On the other hand, Daoism offers a situation where, as a country at war, the Chinese had an opportunity to re-examine their value systems and act accordingly.
The Daoist concept of being in harmony with nature and not struggling to bring about change could be looked at as a peace strategy. This is because wars are naturally fanned by human desire to achieve something that humans feel is of ultimate importance to them. Wars also spring out of humans’ questioning of things and hence inventions of valuable things (which they desire so much). Humans would also like to either wrest from people who wouldn’t like them to possess the valuable items, or fervently protect the items from the people who would covet them.
The need for man to change, to improve on things and to have an influence over his environment is a tendency that puts man in contention with the Daoist principle. If people followed Daoism, then they wouldn’t engage in a lot of questioning, which would bring about the escalation or perpetuation of the war. Their social relationships would be smooth, for all of them would be in harmony with nature, which would naturally take its course and not support of war. Daoist leadership would therefore be a laid back kind of leadership, with nature ‘taking care of itself’.
The kind of transformation to come out of the society would therefore be premised on the Daoist fact that nature is capable of transforming itself, and man doesn’t have to take steps to interfere with occurrence of events. This however, would be criticized on the premise that change is something to be managed by the human being, by use of his intellect. Daoism as a leadership style would be an aloof kind of leadership, and during the war period, something deliberate had to be done, the solutions to the problems then were not just left to ‘fall from heaven’.
To best illustrate this, Barry calls Daoists “…those who wandered off…” (48) Legalism This school of thought argued that strong government depended upon effective institutional structures not just the moral quality of the leaders. This could be described as the application of law for the benefit of the majority. Legalism thus becomes a system of reinforcement, with an emphasis on both positive and negative reinforcement meted out to the members of the society in order to discourage certain socially undesirable behavior according to the majority of people paying allegiance to the society in question (Ebrey & Buckley 23).
According to legalism school of thought, society is shaped through its reward system, with socially unacceptable behavior being punished for, with blessings from the social framework that awards certain individuals the power to dish out these rewards, without necessarily being seen to deny one or infringe upon their rights. This may help galvanize a society or community, which will in turn have a more prominent sense of identity and solidarity. Such a stand in a war situation is good for the purpose of gaining victory over the enemy.
Legalism is quite an ideal system for bringing the society together in the face of a common enemy. This also gives the ruler the chance to act with speed, since legalism is a system that is responsive to the times; changing with circumstances and accordingly responding to the dictates of the time. War times need an atmosphere where there is quick action and response, and with the foundation that gives legality to what the rulers are deciding on behalf of their subjects.
Legalism was therefore, an ideal philosophical grounding for individual Chinese communities during the time of war, for it is a system that can well serve the expedients of war. This comes in the light of the fact that the Chinese had developed government structures bequeath to them by the Chin dynasty, and which lasted for more than two centuries (Barry et al. 145). The structures brought about by the Chin dynasty were important in the realization of the dictates of the legalistic system, which was organized around reward and punishment, and had to have a basis in the common will of the people.
Thus, there had to be a person vested with the power to mete out punishment to errant members of the society, while at the same time hand down rewards to those who performed and behaved in accordance with the needs and aspirations of the society. This person also derived mandate from the same common will that requires the people to obey and take reward, both positive and negative, with understanding; since it is for the common good that this is done. It can be argued that legalism is something close to Confucianism, because it comes out of man’s free will.
It is a product of social engineering, with a view to bringing about an ideal society; something totally distanced from Daoism, which emphasizes the need to let life just flow, without taking any action to influence one’s environment. Mohism This is a system of universal brotherhood, where everyone on the face of the earth is related to each other, with an obligation to look after one’s kin (Ebrey & Buckley 35). Taken from this very standpoint, this is a perfect doctrine for humanity at any one time, and in this case, for China during the warring times.
This is because, as we have noted above, human conflict springs out of differences. These differences, when not solved amicably, lead to war. The inclination to keep some things away from others and to take what is owned by others is a perfect recipe for war. If, in the light of Mohism, all of humanity was to lay a claim on brotherhood, and maintain that doctrine of being each other’s keeper, then the incidence of war would be remote. This is because brotherhood entails harmony and amity.
It also presupposes the ability to communicate with each other without necessarily taking to arms. Mohists might not have been comprehensive in their brotherhood matrix. Even though all men are supposed to be brothers, the Mohists’ view of the world is quite hierarchical, with the junior members of the society bearing a social responsibility to be subservient to those who are perceived to be on an elevated social platform. This is a system that would have borne fruit if only the small people accepted it.
If however, the common people are not agreeable to this arrangement, then Mohism would be just but another plank of wood in the fire, for they would revolt as a response to this flawed brotherhood arrangement. From a different perspective, Mohism could be taken to be the answer to the perceived social injustices prevalent in China then. Much as one could be the other’s brother, this system sought to cultivate an environment where an individual, after striving for, and accumulating enough superior residues; would acquire a higher status and would lead people.
War needs strong willed people, since it carries a lot in terms of collateral damage, both in terms of human life and material possessions. War time also needs utmost sacrifice, so that as brothers, some members of the society do not just sit back and wait for the other people to work out way-through for them. If one is in a lower position, then he has to be obedient and provide for that one who is up. In this way, Mohism comes out as a system that influenced the social set up such that it recognized the need to love each other, and to be ready to stand by each other; while at the same time, not losing the individual.
If they were to be juxtaposed, Mohism and Confucianism would relate up to a certain extent. One would easily say that in terms of hierarchy, both Confucianism and Mohism teach about the society in light of inequalities and the need for these to be maintained through proper social decorum. Confucius goes deeper to analyze, at a finer level, the social relations and how they should be handled for the sake of peace and tranquility. Mohists may differ on some of these because of the pedant stand they regard the social hierarchies and how they observe and maintain them.
However, it provides a framework for the legitimization of rulership, for a ruler is someone who occupies a place in a hierarchical set up. Legitimacy of a ruler springs out of the acceptance the ruler enjoys from the society. War times need strong leaders who derive legitimacy from their people. In times of war too, a ruler could impose himself on the people, but for as long as he serves to protect them or unite them against the enemy, then his legitimacy may not be much of a problem, since it is in the people’s name that the ruler reigns.
This solidarity is best achieved by communities that recognize hierarchy as a natural phenomenon in life, and which Mohists and Confucians upheld in their thought. Conclusion In conclusion, based on personal point of view, the various ideological developments in China which brought about the four schools of thought which have been examined in this paper are a response to certain conditions in the society at the time of their emergence, and that these are mechanism that were crafted so as to manage change.
The difference only lies in the points that were stressed. Mohism, for instance, is a system that was conservative to a certain extent, reacting to the possibility of occurrence of a development that could challenge the existing hierarchical status quo. At the same time, it endeavored to foster change in the way people regarded one another, with the small people (the serfs and commoners) fully recognizing and venerating their lords.
Confucianism on the other hand, much as it strove for change on the individual level which would later on seep into the entire social fabric of the Chinese, was also a fairly conservative system. Just like Mohism, it posed no threat to the existing powers. It was a system that would be used to bring the people together in times of war, for this was not a time for people to start questioning their authorities. By defending the hierarchical system existent then, the Confucians thought of an alternative leadership style where noble people would get to influence the rulers through their self cultivation.
This system almost totally absolved the ruler from responsibility, since the leader had the social privilege of lording it over his subjects without being obliged to observe certain tenets of leadership. It was however incumbent upon the subject to go through the process of self improvement. What would happen if all the subjects had transformed themselves yet the leadership was not together with them? What avenues would they have to really exercise power? Daoism was one way of running away from the human responsibility to respond to change.
By letting all systems go, the society would be at a greater risk of falling prey to the dictates of a bad ruler, a coward or one who would sell them to the enemy during this war period, since the Daoist doctrine was all about living and letting live. After considering everything, legalism seems to be the system that would have best defended the particular communities, and even a collection of the communities, for it is a system of action and reciprocation. The common person reacts, and then the system responds by awarding a deserving reward; whether positive or negative.
Subject: Chinese philosophy,
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 11 January 2017
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