China has been one of the most mysterious civilizations since ancient times. It is a country of ancient history, culture, and philosophy. China's geographical remoteness contributed to the concentration of its thinkers on their socio-cultural experience. The philosophy of ancient China is closely associated with religion and mythology; thus, it has some peculiarities arising from the social life of Chinese society. The most prominent philosophers of ancient China, who determined its problems and development for the following centuries, were Laozi (second half of the 6th - first half of the 5th century BC) and Confucius (551-479 BC) (Craig et al. 96). Therefore, this paper will discuss the principles of the two greatest Chinese philosophers Confucius and Lao Tzu demonstrating the differences and similarities between their teachings.
The philosophical views of Lao Tzu are mixed because of the political and cultural situation in China. At the time, Chinese philosophy was in the process of formation, and Lao Tzu reflected the inconsistency of the surrounding existence in his teaching. The central point of his teaching is the concept of tao, which constantly appears and is born everywhere in the universe (Boedicker and Boedicker 156). However, the interpretation of its content is mixed. On the one hand, the tao is the natural way of all things not independent from God and men, and it is the expression of the universal law of motion and change of the world. Due to this approach, all phenomena and things are in the state of development and change, which after reaching a certain level, gradually transform into the opposite state. Thus, the development is interpreted uniquely. On the one hand, it moves in a circle. On the other hand, the tao is eternal, immutable; it does not have any forms and is imperceptible to human emotions and bodies (Craig et al. 117). Thus, the main principle of Taoism is inaction, and its basic ideas are described in the work Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu.
Unlike Lao Tzu, Confucius did not concentrate on the development of general theoretical problems. His ethical concepts were based on the religious and philosophical ideas of reality. The ethics of Confucius depicts the rationalized ancient Chinese religious morality. It is based on the principles of justice, duty, humanity, trust, knowledge, and ritual. Confucianism is a reflection of the stabilization of human relations. Zuo Zhuan is an important work for understanding the intellectual context of Confucianism (Boedicker and Boedicker 170). The main idea of the teaching is a need for education based on respect and reverence for society, its laws, and traditions. Furthermore, ritual occupies a central place in the philosophy of Confucius. It is treated as a form of symbolic thought, a principle of hierarchical understanding of being, and a method of structuring space and society. Thus, execution of the ritual is the path to enlightenment.
Being the cornerstone of the Eastern philosophy, enlightenment is also the primary goal of the teachings of both Confucius and Lao Tzu. While Confucius focuses on virtue, Lao Tzu claims that inaction helps achieve enlightenment. Confucius also believed that virtue and adherence to customs led to enlightenment and a return to the universal order of things. According to Lao Tzu, one should not interfere with the natural order of things, and this path would lead them to enlightenment (Van De Weyer 110). Moreover, the political views of Confucius and Lao Tzu reflected their philosophies. Therefore, in Analects, Confucius claims that a wise ruler honors a ritual, which together with a virtue enables them to maintain the state system in the country (Van De Weyer 76). However, Lao Tzu is convinced that the best ruler is the one about whom people do not know anything, only the fact that the person exists. Nevertheless, the idea of equilibrium united the philosophies of Lao Tzu and Confucius: people should not go to the extremes in their lives experiencing excessive pleasure or grief. Thus, the ways to achieve equilibrium are inaction (Taoism) and observance of the rituals (Confucianism).
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To conclude, the greatest philosophers of China, Confucius and Lao Tzu created unique moral and philosophical systems, which became a set of guidelines for Chinese society. The teachings of the thinkers significantly differ from each other. Confucius focused on the virtue while Lao Tzu propagated inaction to achieve enlightenment. Additionally, there is a significant difference in the political views of the philosophers. Confucius claimed that a genuine ruler should honor their rites, and Lao Tzu was convinced that people should not know anything about a good leader. However, the idea of balance of one’s life goals unites the teachings of Confucius and Lao Tzu.
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