The Ethics of Confucius, by Miles Menander Dawson, , at sacred-texts.com
THE ethical and political precepts of Confucius are not well known in Occidental countries, even to most of those who give special attention to these subjects; and of what is known, much, indeed most, is confused with the notion that Confucius taught a religion in our sense of that term.
Yet these ethical teachings, which are almost purely secular, have for more than 2000 years been accepted by a larger number of human beings than those of any other teacher. This, also, notwithstanding that the peoples who so receive Confucian morals as their guide are of the most various views concerning religion, i.e., for instance, are Buddhists, Mahometans, Taoists, Shintoists, etc. No other ethical system, whether of religious origin, or of secular, has ever been acceptable to persons professing religious convictions so diverse.
And his political maxims have been regarded as fundamental, and knowledge of them, as well as of his ethics, has been insisted upon as a prime essential to political preferment, in a nation which,
despite the not infrequent shifting of ruling dynasties, has the unparalleled record of continuing from prehistoric times to the present without a single break.
In view of their obvious importance and of the availability of translations of the Chinese classics, the question naturally arises: Why the prevailing want of information concerning the works of Confucius, his disciples and followers?
Though due in part, no doubt, to Confucianism not being a religion and so receiving but scant attention from students of comparative religions, to the relatively small interest of Occidentals, until very recently, in things Chinese, and to the somewhat expensive editions in which alone the best translation is available, the want of information concerning these teachings is, in my opinion, chiefly due to this: They are found in large volumes consisting of ancient Chinese classics which Confucius edited, of a collection of his sayings, of certain books by his disciples that purport to give his precepts accurately, in one book by his great apostle, Mencius, 1 who more than a century later led the revival of Confucian ethics which has continued to this day, and in certain books by later followers; and these books consist, in varying proportions, ranging from a minimum of more than
half to a maximum of at least nineteen-twentieths, of discourses upon ceremonies, customs, and the like, possibly of great interest to dwellers in China or Japan, but almost absolutely devoid of interest to most Occidentals.
These ceremonies and customs, already firmly intrenched when Confucius was born, doubtless constitute a very rich and expressive language, crystallized into conduct; but it is one which is wholly unintelligible and even repellent to persons of Western origin.
The only form, other than this, in which the ethical teachings of Confucius and his followers have been presented, is through books about these teachings, i.e., presenting, in the language of these modern authors, what they consider Confucius and his followers have taught.
The aim in preparing this book is to put before Occidental readers, in the words of the Chinese sage and his followers, as translated, everything concerning ethics and statecraft contained in the Confucian classics which is likely to interest them, omitting nothing of importance. This has been undertaken in the following fashion:
Every such passage has been extracted from all the works comprising the Confucian classics and several from the more important works of early Confucian scholars.
These have been arranged by topics in accordance with a scheme laid down as that of Confucius himself in "The Great Learning."
The passages, so quoted, have been thrown into the order deemed most effective to demonstrate and illustrate the doctrine of Confucius.
To sustain the interest unbroken, the passages quoted are connected by a running narrative, showing briefly the relationship of one with the other, stating from what bock taken and by whom enunciated, and most sparingly accompanied by quotations from other moralists, ancient or modern.
This book makes no claim to be an exhaustive study of the text, or of the commentaries on the text, of the Chinese sage; and much less to epitomize a critical investigation and collation of original texts. It accepts the generally received canon of the sayings and writings of Confucius as authentic, and deals exclusively with their significance as viewed scientifically in these days. Thus considered, the sayings of Confucius are seen to exhibit wonderful foresight and insight.
Indeed, it is a continual marvel that, like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, Confucius should have come so near to laying down, formally, the lines which scientific investigation must pursue; and yet that, as generation after generation passed away, the attitude of many of the disciples of each of these should have become more and more that of blind and even superstitious imitation of the great teacher, and almost scrupulous avoidance of the application of his principles in the never-ending search for truth. This seems to have
commenced with the immediate disciples of the sage, and by the time of Mencius it was already a species of idolatry, expressed in such sayings as this:
"Since first there were living men until now, there has never been another Confucius." (Bk. ii., pt. i., c. ii., v. 23.)
"From the birth of mankind till now, there has never been another like our Master." (Bk. ii., pt. i., c. ii., v. 27.)
So also, among the Greeks and Romans, the very name, "philosopher," i.e., "lover of wisdom," which Socrates gave to himself as one who did not pretend to be wise already, but who merely sought wisdom earnestly, soon lost its true meaning, as veneration for Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle took the place of the child-like, simple, open-minded search for truth which they inculcated as the obvious duty of intelligent beings. In other words, the positive teaching of these great minds became in due time prescriptive authority in the view of their followers, while the essential factor in the thought of each of the great teachers, that the mind should be openshould, in the words of St. Paul, "try all things and hold fast that which is good"gave way to a prohibition against questioning any declaration of the Master, and later against questioning any of the accepted derivations and corollaries of the authoritative sayings.
It is to be remembered that Confucius never made claim to be inspired; to be sure, he said of
himself, "If Heaven had wished to let this cause of truth perish, then I, a mortal yet to be born, should not have got such a relation to that cause, but this was rather a declaration of the universality of divine providence than a claim of special inspiration.
Later, however, the commentators virtually claimed it for him, i.e., that he was "divinely sent," as in the Annotation of Kung-Yang quoting the Adjunct of the Spring and Autumn and also in the Adjunct of the Hsiâo King, in which Confucius is represented as reporting to Heaven the completion of his writings and as receiving divine approval in the form of a red rainbow arching down and becoming transformed into yellow jade with words carved upon it.
This book is written to afford others opportunity for the same inspiring understanding of the true nature of the Confucian conception of good conduct as an encouragement of independent, clear thinking concerning the purposes of life and what may be done with it, which met so warm a welcome in my own mind when I first fortunately chanced upon a really good translation of the Analects of Confucius. What is here attempted is but an unworthy recognition of the great benefit, which, across twenty-five centuries, the Chinese sage conferred upon me.
My thanks are due to various persons who have aided me with criticisms and suggestions; but very especially to Chen Huan Chang. Ph.D.
[paragraph continues] (Columbia), Chin Shih of 1904 A.D. (i.e., winner of the prize in the highest competitive examination in China on the teachings of Confucius), formerly Secretary of the Grand Secretariat at Pekin, now President of the Confucian Society in China and leader of the successful movement there to restore public recognition of Confucian ethics and observances. Dr. Chen has looked up for me all doubtful interpretations of texts, advising me of the variant views and enabling me to choose among them. In general, and with almost no exceptions, the commonly accepted meaning is given.
viii:1 Mencius said of himself: "Although I could not be a disciple of Confucius myself, I have endeavoured to cultivate my virtue by means of others who were." (Bk. iv., pt. ii., c. xxii., v. 2.)