Plato and Confucius Essay

4600 Words Nov 23rd, 2011 19 Pages
Separated by more than 8500 kilometers but only 52 years, two seminal thinkers have shaped the moral philosophy of their respective cultures. While Western ethical theory has been deeply influenced by Plato’s Republic, Eastern ethical theory has been deeply influenced by Confucius’s Analects. David Haberman describes the Republic as ‘one of the most influential books of all time’ (86). And Bryan Van Norden compares (with considerable fervor) the Analects to ‘the combined influence of Jesus and Socrates’ (3).
On the surface, there are many similarities between Confucius and Plato. Both taught through means of dialogue, and both expressed reticence to provide direct definitions. Both advocated contemplation and education as the means for
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In books II-IV and VIII-IX of the Republic, Plato shows that dikaiosune is the only state in which a person may find harmonious fulfillment.
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Dikaiosune is an agent-centered ethical ideal. 'Plato shifts from an act-centered to an agent-centered concept of justice,' so that one who becomes a philosopher embodies dikaiosune (Annas: 162).
Essay – Plato vs. Confucius 4
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By the time we get to the end of the Republic, we have more than a theory of justice in the narrow sense. We have been told a good deal about the good life in general (Annas: 13). Socrates says that the search for dikaiosune ‘concerns no ordinary topic, but the way we ought to live’ (352d).
In sum, it may be observed that dikaiosune has to do with the right relation of parts. In the case of the individual, this has to do with the three parts of the soul: the appetitive, the spirited, and the rational.8 Plato states that a person is just when he ‘regulates well what is really his own,’ ‘puts himself in order,’ and ‘harmonizes the three parts of himself’9 (443d). In the case of the state (polis), this has to do with the three classes of its citizens: guardians, auxiliaries, and producers. A society that epitomizes dikaiosune helps to produce an individual that epitomizes dikaiosune, and an individual that epitomizes dikaiosune helps to produce a society that epitomizes dikaiosune. ren Confucius’s concept ren (or jen)

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