Wednesday, March 01, 2000

Aristotle vs. Confucius

Aristotle and Confucius are two very great philosophers. This paper will analyze how each of them balances freedom and obligation in a political state. Even though Aristotle and Confucius are different philosophers, their viewpoints are very important and both are valued because there is not one right balance regarding freedom and obligation in the political state. Aristotle and Confucius are both great philosophers who offered valuable insight and each of them balanced freedom and obligation in the political state in different (but very useful) ways.
Before we dig into the political state specifically, it is important to recognize how Aristotle and Confucius were not only as philosophers, but as men and general human beings in the world around them. Confucius was a great philosopher who believed that humans are superior and cherish that desire to be good and perfect. Confucius says many things in passages and is inspirational yet today. How many times have you heard the term “Confucius says” in quotes? They are all over the place. One example of this as stated by Confucius (n.d) is:
It is important to look at how these two great philosophers compare and contrast with one another. A big aspect in philosophy is virtue. When one has virtue, they show that they have high standards in their morals that they carry with them. It’s very important to have good morals and ethics in everything we do, everyday. People look at us based upon these; they remember us based on how we carry ourselves and how we treat others. You will see in this research that a lot of what Aristotle and Confucius focus on are relationships. This is one area that Aristotle and Confucius agree on. Taking Aristotelian and Confucian ethics as mirrors for each other leads us to reflect upon the traditional roots of both ethics, to examine their otherwise unexamined presuppositions, and to generate alternative perspectives to determine why each side proceeds in the way it does.” (Yu; 2007)
Aristotle, one of my favorites, was also a great man and philosopher. His quotes have lived on every day in inspiration and motivation. The reason why Aristotle is my favorite is because he was very straightforward. He claimed that everything we do has an end – but isn’t it true? This doesn’t necessarily mean for an actual end, but rather for a purpose. Everything we do in life has a purpose; I really believe that, as did Aristotle. One of his main focuses was logic. His objective was to “come up with a universal process of reasoning that would allow man to learn every conceivable thing about reality.” (Aristotle; 2004) The initial process involved describing objects based on their characteristics, states of being and actions. Aristotle had a major influence on Western thought and social sciences. His teacher, Plato (also widely known) had a big influence on him as well.
The way that Aristotle and Confucius balanced freedom in a political state says a lot about the two philosophers. Aristotle’s balance of freedom in a public state is quite inspirational. He’s got a wide range of respect to the public life. Aristotle believed that the public life was needed to balance common good of the world. He believed humans need to flourish upon others and be free with the world. He was very much concerned with the common good of the whole rather than just one in particular thing. Aristotle defined the human being as a “zoon politikon,
a social animal, requiring a politikon bion or public life so that each individual realizes his or her existence to its full meaning by fully functioning within the public community.” (Critchley; 1995) Looking at this definition from Aristotle, we can begin to understand because our community around is the foundation in which we survive and interact with others. If we as humans didn’t have this in our everyday lives, what would happen? We would be lonely, confined individuals with no social lives.
Confucius had a conservative view on the world and the social relationships of freedom. Perhaps what he thought is that the social interactions and behaviors of humans were their own pathways to freedom and that human actions and self awareness played an important factor. Confucius in regards to politics has a lot of ties with the Chinese culture in that he played a large part with Chinese scholars such as Jiang Qing. Qing was a leading scholar in China and worked for a restoration of Confucianism as the state ideology.  Eberlein (2008) stated the following:
Democracy is Westernized and imperfect in nature, Jiang Qing points out. If applied to       China, a western style democratic system would have only one legitimacy – popular will,        or civil legitimacy. Such uni-legitimacy operates on the quantity of votes, regardless of           the moral implications of decisions taken. Since human desire is selfish by nature, those            decisions can be self serving for a particular majority's interest. Because of this, Jiang             Qing argues, civil legitimacy alone is not sufficient to build or keep a constructive social      order.
The reason why I used this excerpt is because it tells so much about Confucius’s background with the Chinese scholar and the mindset of human decisions and desire. Another way that Confucius embraces freedom in political thought is through nature. Freedom is often times seen as the expression of nature, thus leading us to human nature.
When it comes to balancing obligation in a political state, this is where it gets tricky with Aristotle. It may not be a secret that he questions the obligation in politics and that there are many issues behind it. Aristotle didn’t focus as much on obligation, which Confucius believed that we all had obligation to do something, to be something – every human had their own duties. Aristotle looks at political self authority and obligation as two in them- selves. When referring to obligation, we think of something that someone has to do, right? Aristotle has a lot to do with the common good which I think is important to mention here, not just about what it is, but how it has a big place in the role of our society today. This concept was developed by Aristotle, Plato and Ciero but more recently is defined as conditions that are equally to everyone’s advantage. This sounds nice, doesn’t it? Another concept that Aristotle focused on was the Golden Mean. Since Aristotle didn’t focus much on obligations, he focused more on development and character. A couple examples in the way that he portrayed this are: “justice is a mean between getting or giving too much and getting or giving too little. Benevolence is a mean between giving to people who don’t deserve it and not giving to anyone at all. Aristotle is not recommending that one should be moderate in all things, since one should at all times exercise the virtues.”
When thinking of obligation in the world, the concept of common good seems refreshing. Examples of particular common goods or parts of the common good include “an accessible and affordable public health care system, and effective system of public safety and security, peace among the nations of the world, a just legal and political system, and unpolluted natural environment, and a flourishing economic system. Because such systems, institutions, and environments have such a powerful impact on the well-being of members of a society, it is no surprise that virtually every social problem in one way or another is linked to how well these systems and institutions are functioning.” (Velasquex; 2012)
Confucius looked at obligation in the political state widely and it seemed as though there was a bigger weight on obligations of the ruled, rather than the obligations of the ruler himself. Confucianism on one end accepts all values of behavior in human relationships and interactions, which involved certain roles and obligations. What this means is that each person should know what their role is, everyone has a part to play and that is their personal obligation. Confucianism can even go as far obligation in the society in interacting with strangers… meaning that one should do right just because we are all human beings. You can begin to see how Confucius thought of obligations in the political state because everyone must do their part and fulfill their own duties.
Some have even argued that Confucianism was never political to begin with. Perhaps it was just an extremely intense thought that should take place over all other social relations. Fukuyama (1995) states:
Confucianism builds a well-ordered society from the ground up rather than the top down,   stressing the moral obligations of family life as the basic building block of society.          Beyond the traditional Chinese family, or jia, are lineages and larger kinship groups; the          state and other political authorities are seen as a kind of family of families that unites all Chinese into a single social entity.
This is all very interesting because when looking at obligation in political thought, everything that you come upon is about family, relationships, social interactions, etc. It is very evident that Confucius basis his thoughts around this important structure of society.
As we can see, Aristotle and Confucius were very, very inspirational and smart philosophers. Not just philosophically speaking, but they were great men beyond that as we can see in research. Even though Aristotle and Confucius are different philosophers, their viewpoints are very important and both are valued because there is not one right balance regarding freedom and obligation in the political state. The way that they felt on freedom and obligation in a political state is different than it is today. Today, people like to blame things on others and make it not be their problem. There are so many times in our days where people don’t want to get in trouble so they would rather get others in trouble by “passing the buck” so they call it.
I feel that people think they can pass their obligations on to others and it is okay. Perhaps they haven’t learned nearly enough about the thought processes of great philosophers such as Aristotle and Confucius, including many others, who believe that human beings and social interaction and doing the right thing are amongst the most beneficial aspects of life. Of course we believe in freedom but there are still people who try to take that from others.
Although I have read about many philosophers, I am so glad that I got the chance to dig deeper and analyze Aristotle and Confucius as men and philosophers. Aristotle and Confucius truly cared about doing what is right for each other as well as in the world itself. Between Aristotle’s ethics and Confucius’s great teachings, these two philosophers also had a great focus on friendship as well, which really hit me because I feel that life and friendship tie into many of the things that we have learned about these two men and their views on obligation and freedom.
These two men, who lived approximately two centuries apart from each other, had many similarities and differences but all in all they were both “equally as concerned with the moral character of individuals and the application of ethics in political life.” (Mealing; 2008) These two did have some contrasts with one another such as views on impartialism of utilitarianism and Kantianism; Whereas for Confucius the state is the family writ large, Yu contends that for Aristotle the family is subordinate to the state, since the state's aim is 'the highest of all."(Gier; 2007) Looking at Aristotle and Confucius and comparing and contrasting these two men was a great learning for me because I used to think politics was just that – politics: presidents and voting, debates and so on. Politics has a completely new meaning to me.


Aristotle (2004) “Definition of Happiness” Pursuit of Happiness; Retrieved from:

Aristotle (2013) “Synopsis” The Biography Channel website; Retrieved from:          

Confucius (n.d) “Quotations by Author” The Quotations Page; Retrieved from:   

Critchley, Peter Dr (1995) “Aristotle and the Public Good” Academia; Retrieved from:   

Eberlein, Xujun (2008) “Political Confucianism as State Ideology” Global Voices Online; Retrieved from:          political-confucianism/

Fukuyama, Francis (1995) “Confucianism and Democracy” John Hopkins University Press;                      Retrieved from:        %20Confucianism%20and%20Democracy%20%20Journal%20of%20Democracy%2062.        htm

Gier, Nicholas (2007) “Review of Jiyuan Yu’s The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of   Virtue” University of Idaho; Retrieved from:

Mealing, Paul (2008) “Aristotle, Confucius, Ethics and Happiness” Journeyman Philosopher        Blog Spot; Retrieved from:        confucius-ethics-and.html

Velasquez, Manuel (2012) “The Common Good” Santa Clara University; Retrieved from:   

Yu, Jiyuan (2007)The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue” Notre Dame           Philosophical Reviews; Retrieved from:      confucius-and-aristotle-mirrors-of-virtue/

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