Understanding What Confucius Believed About Morality Virtue Ethics White Paper

Excerpt from White Paper :

Riches and honor are what men desire; but if they arrive at them by improper ways, they should not continue to hold them. Poverty and low estate are what men dislike; but if they arrive at such a condition by improper ways, they should not refuse it."

(The Analects of Confucius -- Book 4)

When discussing "moral character" in 2016, writers, pundits and commentators are likely referring to a very rare person, who has an outstanding reputation for honesty and candor, and perhaps even altruism. But Confucius took the concept of moral character to deeper levels, even to the point of believing he wasn't moral enough, or that he didn't reflect virtue to the extent that he should have. This is very interesting since modern political and social life in the Western world in 2016 is exploding with greed, corruption, arrogance and indifference to the plight of the less fortunate.

In the essay by D.C. Lau ("Confucius and Moral Character"), Confucius spoke of the "Way," which apparently meant "truth"; he also spoke of "te," believed to mean "virtue." And when a researcher reads more than a cursory few quotes into Confucius' approach to virtue ("te"), it seems clear that as gifted as a moral leader though he was, he humbly believed that his " ... failure to cultivate his virtue" was the cause for him of great concern (Lau). On the other hand he offered that if ordinary people were "guided" by virtue, they would not only be reformed, they would have " ... a sense of shame" that they had lived such a non-virtuous life up until now (Lau, 60).

If the candidates for the United States presidency were being held to a high standard when it comes to virtue, would any of them still be campaigning? Would any of the candidates be considered (by Confucius' standards and values) of sufficient moral and virtuous character -- and qualified to lead the United States -- in a dangerous world that cries out for moral leadership? That is very doubtful, because without naming names, some (if not most) of the candidates appear to be more prone to mercilessly attacking others rather than putting forth ideas as to how to make the world better and safer. It's unfortunately (and sadly) how the system works in 2016. When Tuz-kung asked Confucius for a "single word" that can be a guide to a person's conduct during his life, Confucius replied: "It is perhaps the word 'shu'. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire" (Lau, 62). This is excellent advice to leaders everywhere, not just those hungry for political power.

In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Confucius believed that a ruler (politician) should first learn "self-discipline," and should govern by his own example, and should treat all constituents with "love and concern." Very troubling to Confucius was " ... his perception that the political institutions of his day had completely broken down." Does that sound familiar? Moreover, Confucius asserted that the collapse in political institutions was due to the fact that "... those who wielded power ... did so by making claim to titles for which they were not worthy" (SEP).

Meanwhile, on the subject of advice from Confucius, his quote at the beginning of this essay most certainly applies to political candidates; but it also applies to the common man, the housewife, the school teacher, the lawyer, shopkeeper and preacher as well. If you achieve wealth and honor through "improper ways," you have basically stolen them, so you are obliged to return those riches and lose your honor.

How many individuals do Americans (or the English, the French, or the Iranians, or any society) know who are truly benevolent and qualify to be referred to as sage? Confucius asked, "How dare I claim to be a sage or a benevolent man?" Merriam Webster defines a sage person as " ... wise through reflection and experience ... proceeding from or characterized by wisdom, prudence, and good judgment." So if Confucius did not consider himself virtuous or moral enough to be considered sage, who among Earth's population in 2016 could claim to be sage?

Perhaps this essay is a smidgen too harsh when asserting that very few mortals in this era are truly virtuous (by Confucian standards). Of course there are good people, honest people, who are perhaps not sage but participate in benevolent programs and activities. Merriam Webster refers…

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