email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God50 Voices of DisbeliefA Companion to Buddhist PhilosophyA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Frightening LoveA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Mirror Is for ReflectionA People's History of ChristianityAdieu to GodAn Ethics for TodayAristotle's ChildrenAugustine's "Confessions"Bad FaithBehind the GospelsBeyond the SelfBig DreamsBig GodsBody Piercing Saved My LifeBrains, Buddhas, and BelievingBrief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and FaithBuddhism and ScienceBuddhist Boot CampConfucianismConfucianismConfucius and ConfucianismContemplative ScienceCorporal Punishment, Religion, and United States Public SchoolsCourage to SurrenderCross and KhoraDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin, God and the Meaning of LifeDeath and the AfterlifeDebating DesignDeeper Than DarwinDivinity of DoubtEmbracing MindEncountering the DharmaEngaging BuddhismEsalenEscape Your Own PrisonEvidence for PsiEvilEvolution and ReligionExplorations in Neuroscience, Psychology and ReligionFaithFaith and Wisdom in ScienceFingerprints of GodFor The Bible Tells Me SoForgivenessFrom Shame to SinGodGod & TherapyGod Is Not GreatGod Is Not OneGod: The Failed HypothesisHereticHidden DimensionsHooked!Hours with the MysticsHow to See Yourself As You Really AreHow Would Buddha Act?Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and PsychotherapyInto Great SilenceIslam and the Future of Tolerance: A DialogueJewish DharmaLife After FaithLiving DeeplyLiving with a Wild GodLiving with DarwinMaking Chastity SexyMedicine and Health Care in Early ChristianityMedicine and ReligionMedicine of the PersonMorals Not KnowledgeMysticism & SpaceNature and the Human SoulNothingOn AnimalsOn Life After DeathPanpsychism and the Religious AttitudePathways to SpiritualityPeaceful Death, Joyful RebirthPhilosophers without GodsPhilosophical Myths of the FallPorn UniversityPray the Gay AwayPsychotherapy without the SelfPurgatoryRadical GraceReason, Faith, and RevolutionRecruiting Young LoveReligion without GodReligious and Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric DiagnosisSaving GodScience and NonbeliefScience and Religion at the CrossroadsScience and SpiritualityScience vs. ReligionSecular Philosophy and the Religious TemperamentSelf Hypnosis for Cosmic ConsciousnessSelf, No Self?Sex and the Soul, Updated EditionSmile of the BuddhaSong of RiddlesSpirit, Mind, and BrainSuperstitionTen Lectures on Psychotherapy and SpiritualityThe Accidental MindThe Belief InstinctThe Bodhisattva's BrainThe Cambridge Companion to AtheismThe Cambridge Companion to Science and ReligionThe Case for GodThe Chosen OneThe Dao of NeuroscienceThe Dark Night of the SoulThe Darkening AgeThe Delight of Being OrdinaryThe Forgotten CreedThe Fundamentalist MindsetThe God DebatesThe God GeneThe Hero with a Thousand FacesThe Improbability of GodThe Joy of SecularismThe Language God TalksThe Language of GodThe Meaning of BeliefThe MiracleThe New AtheismThe New Religious IntoleranceThe Philosophy of ReligionThe Power of FaithThe Power of ForgivenessThe Power of Religion in the Public SphereThe Psychology of Religious FundamentalismThe Psychology of SpiritualityThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Secular OutlookThe Sense of SelfThe Spirit of the BuddhaThe Spirit of Tibetan BuddhismThe Tibetan Book of the DeadThe Trauma of Everyday LifeThe Watkins Dictionary of Religions and Secular FaithsThe Watkins Dictionary of SymbolsTheology, Psychology and the Plural SelfThoughts Without A ThinkerTop SecretUnifying HinduismWays of KnowingWhat Is Buddhist Enlightenment?What Should I Believe?When the Impossible HappensWhy I Left, Why I StayedWilliam James on Ethics and FaithWriting as a Sacred PathYoga, Karma, and RebirthZealot
Confucianism is another in the series of introductory books on the various schools of ancient philosophy. Early volumes in the series have been warmly received and several have been reviewed here. The books in the series are "created especially for students" – by which the publishers mean not only students in colleges and universities, but also general readers who are students of philosophy and its rich history. Goldin's book admirably meets this criterion. It is comprehensive, readable, informative, reliable, well documented with a rich listing of primary and secondary source material, and covers the contributions of the three major figures in classical Confucianism: Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi. Goldin traces the similarities and differences among the three in his three major chapters. In addition he offers an interlude on two texts: Great Learning and Canon of Filial Piety, and a chapter on Neo-Confucianism and Confucianism today in which he outlines transformations Confucianism has undergone in the past century.
The introduction "What Confucianism is and what Confucianism is not" provides a useful definition of Confucianism which shapes the discussion. He writes:
I shall use the term "Confucianism" to refer to the philosophy of Confucius (551-479 BCE), his disciples, and the numerous later thinkers who regarded themselves as followers of his tradition. This definition is … flexible enough to admit the literally hundreds of philosophers who considered themselves as his latter-day disciples. Like any vibrant and long-lived tradition, Confucianism was never a monolith. …But competing Confucians rarely doubted each other's sincerity or commitment to applying the Master's teachings to the exigencies of their day. (pp. 1-2)
We learn that Confucianism sanctions actions and habits if and only if they are conducive to the cultivation of morality; in this sense one is reminded of Aristotle's notion of what will come to be called virtue ethics. Confucius and Aristotle agree that humans are social animals and that flourishing as a human requires social interaction and the development of relationships with other human beings and with the environment that supports and sustains us. Reciprocity is the key ingredient in the relationship formula. Confucius once was asked "if kindness requires kindness in return, does maliciousness require maliciousness in return?" He responded that kindness requires kindness, but maliciousness requires justice. Turn the other cheek is too alien for humans to follow.
The Golden Rule as we know it in the West is formulated "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" while Confucius states the concept differently as "do not do unto others that which you would not want them to do unto you." Consider that difference when thinking about the difficulties that arise between the West and China over considerations of human rights. The positive assertion suggests that what "I" believe is universal and correct. It seems the second, negative assertion, is more tolerant.
It is, of course, difficult for those of us raised and educated in the West to appreciate the subtlety of the ideas embedded in the Chinese language. Zhong and shu, ren and li, and even The Way are subject to interpretation and debate. Goldin presents a clear description of these concepts, writing:
Zhong and shu are not far from the Way. What you would not suffer others to do to you, do not do to them. There are four things in the Way of the Noble Man, none of which I have been able to do. I have not been able to serve my father as I demand of my son. I have not been able to serve my lord as I demand of my servant. I have not been able to serve my elder brother as I demand of my younger brother. I have not been able to do unto my friends as I demand of them.
He argues that Zhong's importance is within a notion of reciprocity as sensitive to social roles, and cashes out essentially as "being honest with oneself in dealing with others." Goldin argues that ren and li usually glossed as humaneness or benevolence and ritual or rites respectively, "cannot be understood correctly without being connected to the goal of role-sensitive reciprocity." In the notion of "The Way" the key idea is learning. Learning to be human is the only way that we can flourish in this world – learning, re-learning, and un-learning are the tools we employ to become human. This entails dignity, relationship with others, respect for others and for the earth – for harmony. We will be in harmony when we recognize we are members of a communion of subjects. Goldin quotes Xunzi:
How does one know the Way? I say: the heart-mind. How does the heart-mind know? I say: emptiness, unity and tranquillity. The heart-mind never stops storing, but it has something called "emptiness". The heart-mind never stops being filled, but it has something called "unity". The heart-mind never stops moving but it has something called "tranquillity".
Paul R. Goldin is Professor and Chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. In the penultimate chapter of Confucianism he writes:
Paternalistic governments throughout China's history have been attracted to Confucius because they have regarded inculcating deference among the populace as a Confucian ideal. Were Confucius himself to have discovered how his teachings would be appropriated, he might not have been pleased. Confucian ethics begin with the premise that human beings have the capacity for moral self-cultivation, and thus a responsibility to reflect daily on their conduct and to modify it where it is deficient. … Confucianism certainly does emphasize service to the state – as long as rulers make a serious effort to live up to the obligation of providing their subjects with an environment of moral excellence – it never approves of craven obedience. (112)
The final chapter is an attempt to defend Confucius from radical feminist charges of sexism.
Confucianism is a brief and lucid book, and a worthy contribution to the series on ancient philosophy.
© 2012 Bob Lane
Bob Lane is an Honorary Research Associate in Philosophy and Literature at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia.