The coexistence of human beings in different societies throughout the world has been a subject of study and research for many centuries. Studies and research that has been carried out in the past reveals that there have been organized structures that provided guidance on the way the society was supposed to respond to different situations and how people were supposed to live with one another. As a result, there are standards that have been set in these society that are expected to be adhered to by every member of the society, failure to which one will be deemed to have violated to societal norms and therefore subject to punishment as shall be decided by the leaders of the society. One of the issues that guide the society is ethics. Every society has its own form of ethics. This essay will therefore examine the theme of ethics in the society by comparing Taoism and Confucius and how these perceived ethics in their societies.
Different societies have portrayed different ethics and morality standards throughout the history of mankind. These ethics were recorded and described by many philosophers that lived among these societies at that particular time. Among the societies that have had great philosophers that described in details the issues that concerned ethics at that particular time are the Chinese societies. The Chinese people had great philosophers such as Confucius and Tao who studied at length the ethics standards among their communities and sought to describe them as was best fit. Their researches and what they discovered was later named after them. Thus we have Taoism and Confucius.
Taoism can be described as the principles of living that were described by Tao Te Ching. These principles were not meant to lecture the society on the ways of living but rather illustrated the results that were produced by certain behaviors in the society. According to Zhuangzi & Watson (1996), Taoism emphasizes on longevity that can only be attained through observing different set of values that have been set up in the community (p.54). Violation of these set of values meant that a person had to bear with serious consequences in the society and therefore be in a position of not living his life to the fullest as it would have been. Therefore, short life or an early death is one of the punishments that one would receive if he committed evil in the society he was living in.
There are various ethical values that are mentioned in Taoism as the basic standards of living in the society. These are selflessness, moderation, embracing the mystery, non-contrivance, detachment and humility. Selflessness, as defined in Taoism was one of the root causes of sorrows and unhappiness in people’s lives. Therefore, one was required to be unselfish in the society in order to be able to meet the ethical requirements that were laid down in the society thus aligning oneself to receive the reward of longevity for observing societal norms and regulations (Zhuangzi & Watson, 1996).
On the other hand, one is required to have a limit in all that he does. Lack of limit among the lives of many people was to core reason why many people kept on struggling with life and competing against each other to gain more. However, the society is unable to offer everything that a man needs in life. Thus, lack of moderation in a person’s life can trigger unnecessary competition among people, resulting in hatred among them. People have to understand that there are limits everywhere and one cannot be able to get all that he desires. This calls for one to have moderation in his life, controlling the desires that one has in order to avoid colliding with other people in the society as they fight for the little that it has to offer. Moderation ethics as defined in Taoism required that a person possess a pure understanding that freedom can only be attained when one realized that the world around was a world of limitations (Zhuangzi & Watson, 1996).
Another ethical factor that is embraced in Taoism is the fact that man should not have fear of the unknown. Instead, life should be approached from that perspective whereby fear is relinquished from a person through the adventures of what mystery has to bring in a person’s life. Taoism promotes the fact that life without any mystery is not enjoyable. As a result, every person in the society should take an adventure of the unknown mystery in his life, with both the possibility of either winning or losing in life. Therefore, one has to balance between the fears of losing that is brought about by the fear of the unknown while on the other hand being guided by the urge to explore the unknown mystery in life.
There are various other ethical aspects that are revealed in the lives of people who embrace Taoism. For example, non-contrivance is highly emphasized in Taoism whereby warning is given to those who are tempted to preach on how man should live in the society. To Taoism, this is creating a society whereby people will possess ethical values that are not true to themselves. Instead, these values are manipulated and therefore cannot stand the test of time. As a result, such people and societies are built on shaky ethical grounds that can tumble down at any moment in time. In emulating Tao therefore, Taoism proposes that one should let go everything that sets down a set of rules and regulations that must be adhered to strictly in the society. Instead, one should be free to do what is right without being coerced to do it.
Another virtue that is emphasized in Taoism ethics is humility. Most people in the society will brag about what they have done before and what they are going to do next. Celebrity is one of the most celebrated virtues in such a society. However, Taoism requires that when one has a task to accomplish, he/she must do it without being attached to the outcome of this task. This way, one will be able to humble instead of exulting himself in the society. The approval of other people for what a person has done is therefore unnecessary in Taoism.
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Confucius was a Chinese philosopher and thinker who came up with different ethical values and propagated them in the society in an endeavor to create a society that followed a particular pattern of values. Confucius approaches the issues of ethics using three aspects of life. These are ceremonies that were linked to sacrifice to deities and ancestors, political and social institutions and the general pattern of behavior in the society. These three aspects were interlinked and could not be separated from one another. As a result, the success of one led to the success of the other while failure of one resulted in poor functioning of the other. Therefore, this required that the community work as a whole towards achieving these aspects in the society (Confucius & Huang, 1997).
The work of Confucius therefore proposed ways that could enhance the lives of people in the society that they lived in. For example, Confucius argues that one was supposed to pursue self interest in life. However, while this is not evil or bad in the society, one could become more righteous if he pursued goals that were aimed at benefiting not only himself but also other people in the society. His arguments are based on the fact that every man would like to be superior in the society. However, in his quest to be seen as a person who is superior, man must realize that there are virtues that one gain when he acts in the society towards helping the whole society achieve what it intend rather than fighting for oneself (Confucius & Dawson, 2003, p.69).
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On the other hand, there are various virtues that one must posses to be termed as a superior man in the society. Some of these virtues include truthfulness, sincerity of mind and thoughts, purity of actions and thoughts, etc. For example, he argues that the mind of a man who is superior embraces righteousness while that of an ordinary man lacks pure judgment and is only interested in what he can be able to gain from the society. Therefore, righteousness is far from the mind and life of such a person and instead such a person is filled with futility. On the other hand, a superior man has no need to fear anything in the society. Confucius argues that when a man discovers that there is nothing wrong in him, then he/she has no need to fear for there is nothing to fear. Accordingly, such man therefore cannot embrace fear in his life as there would be nothing to fear (Confucius & Dawson, 2003).
When comparing the two schools of thought as presented to the society by these two philosophers and great thinkers in the society which they lived in, it can be argued that there are different ways of approaching social ethics that are used in their analysis of ethics in the society. To begin with, both Taoism and Confucius are proponents of goods virtues in the society. There arguments of embracing good virtues in the society is based on the fact that there are rewards that attached on goods virtues and therefore people should strive to embrace them in their lives. For example, when arguing against selfishness, Taoism proposes that a person that lived a selfless life was placed at a place of living a very long life since he was in a position to avoid many conflicts that arose as a result of living a selfish life. Similarly, Confucius asserts that a person who practiced a selfish life was able to attain righteousness (Shun & Wong, 2004).
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Therefore, ethical virtues that are presented in the society by Tao and Confucius embrace the fact that there are benefits that one is awarded with when he embraces good virtues in the society. These benefits were life changing as they enabled anybody who got them to lead a life that was exceptional in the society. Yet, even with such kind of life, these people were expected to follow the principles that enabled them to reach to such kind of life rather than boosting of their achievements. For them, lack of humility was a sign of immaturity, an issue that was supposed to be overcome by focusing on what one has been called to do rather than focusing on the results that were obtained after one had accomplished what he had been called to do (Shun & Wong, 2004).
There are however open flaws that can be seen in both Taoism and Confucius. The proponents of both Confucius and Taoism have argued that they promote the general health of the whole society in terms of the relationships that are formed. However, they have been found to ignore the prosperity of personal life of the people that subscribe to them. For example, Taoism school of thought believes that a person must live a life that is selfless. To them, such a life has less problems since there are no pressures that emanates from the outside world leading to pain and sorrow in one’s life. Therefore, personal gain is discouraged and communal gain encouraged. Similarly, Confucius attaches rewards of righteousness to people who live selfless lives. However, one of the questions that critics of these schools of thought asks themselves is; what happens when one is committed to giving to the society that does not appreciates these efforts? An excellent example is seen when one is committed to helping a young man with all the resources he/she has while the young man in questions keeps on doing what is evil and destructive in the society (Shun & Wong, 2004, p.2).
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Therefore, it can be concluded that both Taoism and Confucius are schools of thought that have evolved for many decades and adopted different principles that are used to promote different virtues that are meant to make life to be harmonious in the society. On the other hand, both Taoism and Confucius have similar principles while in some cases they present some slight differences in their way of approach to societal issues. However, their principles remain among the most embraced principles in countries such as China, Japan and Korea.