Confucianism philosophy has been studied for many years since its foundation. The theoretical and practical application of the philosophy in East Asia has attracted the attention of researchers in the recent past. As the nations of East Asia moves closer to globalization, it is important to evaluate how moral character is theoretical and practically applied in East Asia in light of the perspectives presented in Confucianism. As the source of the philosophy, it should be expected that the Confucius perspectives form an important part of everyday life of the people in East Asia. The purpose of the current research paper is to evaluate the moral theory and practice of the East Asian region in light of the teachings from Confucianism. The paper evaluates theory and practice through exploration of the application moral characters as were defined in Confucianism.
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East Asian Moral Theory and Practice from the Perspective of Confucius
The influence of Confucianism to the moral praxis of the East Asian countries cannot be underestimated. As such, the theoretical and practical aspects of moral and ethics in East Asia are drawn from the teachings of Confucius. The teachings are applied in a pragmatic way across the communities living in China, Japan, Korea, among many other nations. Confucius advocated for six moral virtues forming the background for the moral theory and practice in countries within the Eastern part of Asia. Thy include righteousness, benevolence, ritual propriety, filial piety, wisdom, and trustworthiness. As a requirement, the praxis of the moral virtues form the basis of humaneness in the East Asia and defines the importance of the intelligibility of the moral choices that are made by the people in this region. Confucianism also advocated for a broader understanding of the morals through the exercise of humaneness, integrity, knowledge, righteousness, and proper ritual observance. For this reason, the theoretical and practical ramifications of the moral virtues espoused in Confucianism are hinged on the five constants which were touted by Confucius and his disciples. The purpose of the current paper is to explain the moral theory and practice of the East Asian region in light of the teachings from Confucianism. Specifically, the paper explores the application of theory and practice of the moral virtues as were defined in Confucianism.
The Moral Theory of Confucianism Perspective of East Asia
The theoretical underpinnings of Confucianism are characteristics that define the way people in East Asia have interacted with each other. The social, political, and religious practices of East Asian countries are an upshot of the theoretical teachings espoused by Confucius and advanced by numerous followers of Confucianism. In practical, the way of lifestyle and behaviors of the people in Asia is much depended on the understanding of the five constants defined in the doctrine of Confucius. To this end, Yao observes that moral characteristic is an important pillar of the theory and practice in East Asia. This same concept is well propagated in Confucianism where the moral behavior of the people determines the direction which a country or a community in terms of their interaction with each other. Confucianism doctrine is the basis of the moral authority through the codification of patterns of behavior, moral life, propriety related rules, and guidelines that determines the social interactions and the daily way of life of the people of East Asian countries such China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Through the teachings of Confucius, the social and religious undertakings in the East Asian region are highly underlined with the principles and tenets advanced by Confucianism.
The moral practice in Confucianism provides the direction in the way people in East Asia interact with one another in different circumstances. It is notable that Confucianism touches on every aspect of life of the people who want to follow it. As a form of literati, the pragmatic approach of the people who subscribe to Confucianism teachings can be seen in the way they exercise their moral authority to address many of the challenges they encounter in their communities. Confucianism morality forms the center of interaction as the family level and defines the way parents interact with their children, husbands with their wives, and between siblings in the family.
One of the five constants of Confucianism is the integrity of the people who are in a relationship of any kind. It is notable that people in any community do not leave in isolation but must have a form of interaction with one another. Confucius taught that integrity is an element that is required to cement to the interaction and relationship that people espouse when they are in a community. Moreover, as people have moved into professional organizations where integrity is an essential aspect, they have found that the teachings of Confucius about integrity are more required to keep the professional organization moving ahead. Integrity is one of the characteristics that people from East Asia are emphasizing as a way of life especially at a time when resources have become scarce and competition for the few remaining has become stiff.
The application of Confucius principles and morals in the way of life can also be seen in the upholding of the humanity and human rights in the East Asia. Confucius advocated for humaneness that characterized the way people in higher or influential positions treat those in lower positions. The concept of uprightness and righteousness is a cardinal point in the behaviors and way of life of the people in East Asia. The idea is related to moral principles espoused in Confucianism rather than being a focus of the material and self-gain that one hopes to achieve by upholding righteous deeds. Despite the movement towards profit making communities, the effective application of righteousness and uprightness as a concept advanced and propagated for in Confucianism is an indication that Asian communities and countries cannot just focus on making profits at the expense of the people’s rights. The upholding of the principles of Confucianism is based on the ability to regulate and control the decisions made within the moral spectrum which is acceptable by the majority of the people in the society. People in higher positions are naturally inclined to regulating their excessive behaviors with an effort to prioritize the need to adhere and uphold the virtues developed in Confucianism including propriety and uprightness.
The concept of trustworthiness also is highly developed in the East Asian practice of interaction at social and national levels. According to Confucianism teachings of trustworthiness, it is a moral principle that requires people who subscribe to the principle to observe social rules and rituals of acting in propriety. In addition, people are expected to act in loyalty to their superiors and respect the hierarchical relationships that exist between them and their superiors. They must also be able to stand for their word and be dependent in times of need by others. In contemporary practice of trustworthiness, it is important to keep in mind the purpose for which it was intended by Confucius.
Thus, the concept calls for people to be self-regulatory in their interactions and cultivate the relationships with others but also be conscious of the conflicts which are likely to come up because of the variety of people to which they relate. Confucianism teaches that human communities must be based on the relationship of ruler-subject, father-son, elder and young, friend and friend, and husband-wife. The exercise of trustworthiness as a concept of Confucianism is based on the structural definitions that a particular society or nations ascribe to. For instance, in China the Communist party has been the political leader in the country for many years. Chinese citizens are expected to treat the information and interaction with leaders of the communist party with trust, hoping that what they put in place in terms of policies and regulations are meant to benefit the whole society.
The Confucianism theory of moral character is based on the way someone interacts with the members of their family especially the parents and ancestors. This is found in the constant of ritualistic observance where the moral person is the one who pay regard to parents and ancestors. To this end, the requirement that the moral leaders in the East Asian countries be selected or elected based on their moral characters has been outstanding at least in the recent past. In China, where Confucianism started, it is no longer dynasties ruling but rather democratically elected governments even though the democracy is still lopsided in the case of China. Other countries like Korea and Japan, moral character of the leaders form an essential basis upon which one is elected in office as a premier or the president. In practical terms, Confucius perspectives of moral character is the guiding principle of leaders in the modern day East Asia where majority of the countries are striving to have inclusivity in social, economic, and political leadership. The religious leadership is still confined to moral leaders who are viewed as authority in matters to do with religion and spirituality.
The moral character is thus a foundation through which people who aspire to rise to positions of leadership are subjected to a holistic judgment in terms of their moral character and their worldview perspectives. This may not be the same standards applied in the Western countries but which puts the East Asian countries in the right direction towards upholding of dignity and rights of the people governed. Confucianism advocates for inclusion of the people in education, politics, religion, psychology, among many other areas of society. The contemporary practice of Confucius perspectives in the East Asia region is gravitating towards the principles that Confucianism advocates for especially when it comes to upholding the moral character of those who are in positions of leadership.
The Moral Practice of Confucianism Perspectives in East Asia
While the theoretical perspective has been viewed to hold many things in the way of life of Asian people, the practical aspect may be viewed as applied selectively in the region. In practical terms, Confucianism offers a guideline of principles and practices which the people who wish to follow it must to. For instance, Confucianism calls for a greater involvement of the people in politics, religion, education, philosophy, and other aspects of the society. To the extent that people are engaged in these areas in East Asia, it can be argued that the applicability and praxis of Confucius perspectives in the moral practice is upheld in East Asia. However, it can be seen that the moral practice of Confucianism has been subjected to manipulation and control by the authorities in many of the East Asian countries for fear of giving too much power to the people. This is mostly applied in the area of politics where still the institutions of governance are still controlled by a class of elites in many societies in East Asia. In China, for example, the leadership of the Communist Party is so much closed to the ordinary citizens that it may be difficult for them to participate as may be required by Confucius.
The effort to get knowledge, one of the five constants in Confucianism, is practically applicable in many countries in East Asia. Increase in knowledge is a constant to which the people are expected to uphold all the times. In modern practice, there have been an overshoot in the number of institutions which are offering different kinds of knowledge to the people in East Asia. The presence of many learning institutions in the region is an indication of the adherence to the Confucius perspective that knowledge is a prerequisite to the attainment of moral responsibility by people in the society. The gaining of knowledge predates the need to be self reliant when it comes to matters of obeying the rules and being subject to the rulers. The practical aspect of Confucius perspectives in transmission of knowledge among the East Asian communities thus is viewed as a moral responsibility of both the parents and the government. The provisions of knowledge is touted as a human right for all children and are taught in religious schools and other educational centers about the social norms and cultures of the society in which they were born.
As observed by Yao, the doctrine of literati must be viewed as an ethical question which is used to judge the extent to which Confucianism perspectives are applied in modern East Asian countries. For this reason, the ethical understanding of education and knowledge in Confucianism is different from the one understood by the Westerners. Knowledge in Confucianism is considered as a perpetual endeavor that communities and nations must strive to achieve for all its citizens. The East Asian countries are implementing the moral practice of knowledge as perceived in Confucianism by ensuring that its entire people access the right quality of knowledge that can help them to survive in the modern world.
Learning according to Confucianism perspective includes a promotion of virtues and cultivation of the moral character of the person. As noted by Confucius himself, “A person of virtue studies the Way in order to love people”. This indicates the prominence given to the acquisition of knowledge as a requirement to upholding of Confucianism. The modern practice of learning and education in East Asia is not so much concentrated on the Heavenly Way as envisaged in Confucianism but rather an embodiment of the essence of knowledge to survive in the contemporary world. The East Asian countries are no longer operating in isolation as communities but rather are entrenched in global economy where knowledge is resourceful. Thus, it is not uncommon for governments in this region to emphasis on acquisition of knowledge through learning and education for the youth as a way of enhancing their competitiveness in the global world.
The other important constant of Confucianism that finds applicability in East Asia is the need to uphold righteousness by the people. Righteousness as a perspective of Confucianism is intended to achieve a mutual understanding between subjects and rulers, parents and children, and husbands and wives. The observance of righteousness and justice is also emphasized in religious teachings where people are told that to be righteous is a moral requirement. However, there have been challenges when upholding righteous deeds since some of them may not be universally acceptable especially in light of the increasing interaction between the West and the East. For instance, in most countries in East the issue of homosexuality is not fully embraced and those who are found practicing it are persecuted by the state authority and vilified by their communities.
Yet, this might pass as an unrighteous deed especially in the Western countries where the relationship is increasingly accepted. Justice on the other hand, is enshrined in universal declarations such as those of the United Nations Human Rights where people who are oppressed by the state on any other organization have a right to access justice. It is not lost that human rights violations are rife in East Asian countries but the victims cannot access justice from their masters because the systems of justice themselves are followed. The rulers also do not uphold the Confucianism call to exercise justice in cases where they are the perpetrators of the injustice.
Similarly, the East Asian community adapted the constant of integrity as a guiding principle in the way people carry out their businesses and interact with one another. Integrity is an important pillar in the Confucianism teachings and is aimed at defining the rules and guidelines of interaction within the context of the moral character of the society. The East Asian communities are built on a philosophy of integrity between the rulers and the subjects, parents and children, husbands and wives, as well as ancestors with living people. The integrity by people is practiced in all forms of interactions and in different dimensions. For example, the emotional and experiential dimension, the mystic and narrative dimension, the ritual and practical dimension, the political and doctrinal dimension, the ethical and legal dimension, the material dimension, and lastly the social and institutional dimension. All the seven dimensions define the level of practicality to which integrity as a constant can be applied by people who subscribe to Confucianism.
The practical exercise of Confucianism in East Asia is also implied in the practice of filial piety as the basic foundation of virtues that define the relationships of people. For that matter, filial piety is a construct of the social harmony required by the societies in East Asia. This is mostly applicable to the relationship between parents and their children for which Confucianism holds that those who may have filial piety towards their parents are not likely to resist the authority of the government. Even though the foundational concept of filial piety is to obey and respect parents and ancestors, people are taught to exercise restrain when it comes to questioning the actions of those in authority because the ascribe to the filial piety principle of Confucianism. As a result, people are taught to conform to the authority of the state when they are still young and as they become mature individuals, they have internalized the expectations of those in authority.
In conclusion, from the above analysis, it is evident that theoretical and practical aspects of moral characters in East Asia are informed by the perspectives espoused in Confucianism. The five constants defined in Confucianism and the principles that follow are applied in politics, religion, education, philosophy, and social interaction of the people in the East Asian countries. However, the application may be challenged by a continued globalization where the need to have universal acceptable practices will become more urgent in the region. Some of the constants may not be directly practical such as ritual and religious practices envisaged in Confucianism.