Tag Archives: Confucius

Some Striking Similarities between the Political Philosophy of Ancient Cultures


Confucius (wikimedia.org)


From time to time I notice some striking similarities between ancient cultures. I was reading about Mencius’ theory of social division into “mind-workers” and“hand workers.” Interestingly, Aristotle uses the exact term “xeirotechnes” (hand-worker/hand artisan) to refer to those who work with their hands and are at the bottom of the social ladder. In each case, their function is to supply food for the mind workers. The role of the mind workers is to guard the true way of kingship which was founded by the ancient kings. An interesting addition to the Chinese tradition is that there is either one or very few persons who qualify as a top mind worker, who are called sages and given the title “Hsien.” A Hsien (lit. “better”) is someone who is fit to guide the king in the way of true kingship.


Some further reading gives the historical background for the emphasis on guarding the way of the true kings. The last true kings were considered to be the first three emperors of China. A series of tyrants followed them who basically led to what seems to have amounted to a de-civilization of Chinese civilization. It was at the end of this period (the 4th century BC) that Confucius and later Mencius began writing of the first emperors as the true kings and of their way of rulership as the way of true kingship. Their traditionalism may be viewed as way of getting back to a civilized, orderly society. This may explain the emphasis upon observing familial relations and respect for status in the social order. It may have been an attempt to imitate the old order as the true “way,” rather than an attempt to re-grow a civilization organically.


Leave a comment

Filed under Chinese Philosophy

An Application of the Taoist/Confucian Idea of “The Process.”

Pound’s translation of The Unwobbling Pivot, No. 5 reads as follows: “The Philosopher said: they do not proceed according to the process. No, people do not use the main open road.”
Some have written that Chinese philosophy and culture is very practical. Others have noticed that works like the Tao Te Ching seem anything but practical. This particular quote and illustration shows how the two fit together.   Many people, and especially young people today feel alienated from American capitalism.  The following is meant as an exposition of a Confucian viewpoint that might be taken of things.
First, “The Process” 
What is mean by “the process”? Its simply the way of things, the way things are, and the way things come to be. Talking about it seems to have such an air of generality that it appears to lack much practical application. However, there is a way in which it can usefully be applied to some of today’s cultural problems.
Use the Open Road! What open road?
Our society is a capitalistic one. This means that if you want a decent living you are going to have to sell things or compete with others for employment. This is the way of things in our society. Going against that way would make things difficult. Not necessarily impossible and not necessarily not to one’s benefit, but certainly difficult.
The practical thing for most people to do, with the exception of all but a very small few (we’re being practical about this), is to embrace the way of things to whatever extent works to your benefit and to the benefit of your society. Embracing competition, or simply an ethos of bettering oneself in a way that is economically advantageous, is a turn of mind that can make your life go more smoothly. It is a very, very strong tide that would be very difficult to go against. This dynamic is at the core of our society.
It is not suggested that adhering to this process or way should become the core or center of one’s being-that is not the center but what whirls about the center. It is change, not stillness, not rest. And yet we need change as individuals just as nature does. It should also be emphasized that embracing the way of things need not involve doing so without a sense of how to make things better.
How does this help solve cultural problems?
This answer is: by helping people to better come to terms with the society they live in and to help them see what is advantageous for them while they are living in it. It hopefully shows how it might be possible to do what is advantageous, work for whatever changes might be needed, and find their place in the process-and even shape it and guiding it. One should not simply live for oneself without compromise; one must also live for and even make sacrifices for the betterment of one’s society.
Of course, there may be those who reject this process altogether. In that case, it seems that there are two options: reject capitalism and leave this society or reject capitalism and remain in society. But on a practical level, be advised that this won’t be easy. The worst option of all would seem to be to go against the process, remain in society, and do nothing to change it. Practically speaking, that would be to no one’s benefit.
This is a very practical way of looking at things. It is also tied to seemingly airy metaphysical way of looking at things at a high level of generality. It illustrates how the two fit together to guide decision making.
I welcome your comments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Eastern Philosophy