Good and Evil Aristotle Bases Term Paper

  • Length: 8 pages
  • Subject: Business - Ethics
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #45386152

Excerpt from Term Paper :

.. The superior man is broad and fair; the inferior man takes sides and is petty... A superior man shapes the good in man; he does not shape the bad in him.

It is said that a disciple once asked Confucius to define the conduct of one's entire life with a single word. The Chinese philosopher replied: "Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself do not do to others." This rule might be considered the foremost principle of Confucius' ethics, as it is often repeated in the literature. However, despite the importance of this principle, Confucius does not explain other notions by using this particular idea, as a derivate thereof, nor does he present in greater detail what a man should do in the relationship with others (parents, friends), when faced with opposite choices, as a natural consequence of "reciprocity."

Confucius did not explain some other things, such as why superior man chooses righteousness rather than personal profit. His follower, Mencius, was later interested in finding a solution to this problem. He stated that humans are naturally inclined to do what is humane and right. Evil was not considered an inherent trait of man, but a result of poor upbringing and lack of education. However, another of Confucius' followers, Xun-xi (also known as Xun-zi or Hsun-tzu) argued that it is the very nature of man to be envious of others and in constant look for self-profit. The consequence would be a constant conflict, which the rules of morality (and later, those of the state), avoid. Although all Confucians shared the ideal of a superior man, they were divided over the issue of how this "superiority" is achieved: either by letting people to follow their natural instinct or, on the contrary, by prohibiting them to do so, by way of education and upbringing.

Confucius' greates work is the Lun-yu (the Analects), which was probably compiled by the second generation of Confucian disciples. It is based on the Master's sayings, preserved in both oral and written transmissions. It resembles in its spirit the Platonic dialogues, since they embody the in a similar way the teachings of the Chinese philosophers.

Being primarily a teacher of humanity, Confucius stated his desire as a concern for human beings: "To bring comfort to the old, to have trust in friends, and to cherish the young" (5:25). His intention was to develop a moral community, which was based on a holistic reflection of the human condition. He did not try to abstractize the true nature of man, regardless of time and space, as his European counterparts did, but established points of reference. A practical man, he intended to restore people's trust in the government and to transform the society intro a moral community, based on the cultivation of the sense of humanity applied in politics and society. A premise of such an aim was the creation of a fellowship of chin-tzu (noblemen). The true nobleman, according to Tseng-tzu, a Confucian disciple, must be "broad-minded and resolute, for his burden is heavy and his road is long. He takes humanity as his burden. Is that not heavy? Only with death does his road come to an end. Is that not long? (8:7) Confucius himself argues: "A man of humanity wishing to establish himself, also establishes others, and wishing to enlarge himself, also enlarges others. The ability to take as analogy of what is near at hand can be called the method of humanity" (6:30).

As mentioned above, one of the greatest Confucian followers, Xun-xi, was characterized by moral pessimism, (much as the European Hobbes, many centuries later). He stressed that human nature is evil and that humans are prone by nature to pursue gratification of their passions, therefore creating the need for powerful social constraints. Without them, Xun-xi argued that social solidarity, conceived as the precondition for human well being, would be undermined. He contradicted Mencian commitment to the goodness of human nature by stating that it leads to neglecting the necessity of ritual and authority.

Xun-xi believed that rationality was the basis of morality. Human beings become moral by harnessing their desires and passions, as the result of a social necessity, in accordance with society's norms. Learning is defined as socialization, which is indeed a concept attributable to Xun-xi. He argued that tradition and conventional norms, the authority of ancient sages and teachers, laws, rules and regulations all play a part in this process. He defined a cultured person as a fully socialized member of the human community, who arrived at the point where public good was so important that the instinctual demands were sublimated in that good.

2. If "good" was defined by the three philosophers in such a way, "evil" was what they were trying to fight against. Aristotle wanted to counter not only the natural tendencies of man, either excessive or deficient, but also his opponents, the sophists, who argued, basically, that it is not the truth that's important, but if the crowd believes the speaker or not, regardless of the quantity of truth in his speech. Ironically, modern society is more attracted and dominated by the sophistic values than by Platonic or Aristotelian ones. The Golden Mean is easy to pass by. People sometime behave like human animals, like slaves, and not like proper human beings, characterized by their capacity to rationalize. This is what Aristotle was fighting against. As for the state, any contradiction to his idea of polity would be wrong.

Confucius preached humanity (although "preached" is probably not the best word, since he was such a practical man. but, after all, Calvin, for instance, was also practical man, and he preached practicality.) as a province governor, Confucius was renowned for the kindness of the people he lead. "Evil" meant not returning the services of another, treating your friends bad, treating your parents or your family bad, treating everyone else bad. The moral community was the center of his ethical universe, so any one who would defy its rules would be considered inferior, not "noble," without the sense of social responsibility. Society was the value Confucius defended, and offenders, in any form, were "evil."

Xun-xi believed that man itself is "evil." The very nature of the human being has to be changed, in order for proper social cohesion to be achieved. Upbringing and education were the methods Xun-xi thought could raise man from its condition to a moral being. The pessimism of Xun-xi made him perceive "evil" as the general situation, the rule, which had to be corrected. Society had to be based on a moral sense, which could only be "integrated" in a person by applying the correct methods.

3.The theological significance of the relationship between good and evil does not differ much from culture to culture. The divine origin of ethics was present in Mesopotamia (Shamash presents the code of laws to Hammurabi) or ancient Greece (Zeus takes pity on humans and gives them a moral sense and the capacity for law and justice, so that they could live in larger communities and cooperate with one another). The Ten Commandments are given to Moses by God, on Mount Sinai.

It is not surprising that morality is invested with the power and mystery of divine origin. There is no other thing that would prove so strong in imposing the moral law. By attributing a divine origin to morality, the priesthood obtained a higher status, as interpreter and guardian, which allowed it to secure a power that it would not easily relinquish. The power between morality and religion is so strong that there have also been statements that proclaimed the indivisibility of the two.

Plato argues in his dialogue Euthyphro that there are standards of right and wrong which are independent from the likes and dislikes of the gods. There has also been said that, although good and evil exist independently from God, it is only by way of divine revelation that we can correctly inform ourselves as to their significance, since there is no other adequate criterion.

Another link between ethics and religion was the idea that religious teachings provide a reason for doing what is right. In its most primitive form, it was considered that those who obey the moral law would be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while the other would roast in hell. Later, in more sophisticated versions, the motivation became less self-seeking and more inspirational. However, the most important aspect of religion is that it provides an answer to the question "Why should I do what is right?" However, it must be noted that the answer provided by religion is by no means the only one.


1. Encyclopedia Britannica 1997 Edition

2. Classic Note on Aristotle's Politics

3. The Internet Classic Archive - Confucius, Analescts

4. The School of Hsun-tzu

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