Plato and Confucius

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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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The term seems to have a more ethical meaning. Some have argued that it is better translated as ‘goodness’10 or ‘love,’11 but these terms fail to capture the ‘completeness’ of Confucius’s meaning.12
Kwon-Loi Shun claims the meaning of the original word itself is clouded by ‘competing views.’ He states that ‘in the Analects ren is used both more narrowly to refer to one desirable quality among others, and more broadly to refer to an all-encompassing ethical ideal’ (53).
While Confucius’s definition of ren is not explicitly stated, it is intimated, and its parallels with dikaiosune are notable:
1.
Confucius's concept of ren entails a wide scope of meaning. It is ‘described as something that includes other desirable qualities’ (Kwong-Loi Shun: 53).13
2.
But it is also listed as one desirable quality among others such as courage and wisdom (W9.29, W14.28).
3.
Ren is a virtue, which regulates our relationships with others. Confucius said the ‘direction which unifies everything’ and the ‘single saying that can keep watch on one’s actions throughout one’s life is this: considerateness – that which one disfavors, apply not to others’ (W4.15, W12.2, W15.24).
Essay – Plato vs. Confucius 5
4.
Ren is related to harmony: harmony of the individual within ‘the social framework of the ideal state’ (Jiuan-Yu: 327). ‘The central Confucian idea is represented by a Chinese character that has been explained pictographically as consisting of two parts: the component
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