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Confucian Golden Rule

Don't do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. It is phrased in the negative. The Christian Golden Rule is phrased in the positive. The Confucian version is much more practical. Not a demand for action, it is, instead, a constraint.

[What can serve as a principle of conduct for life?] "Perhaps the word 'reciprocity' (shu) will do. Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you.1 

 

Never to wrong others takes one a long way towards peace of mind. People who know no self-restraint lead stormy and disordered lives, passing their time in a state of fear commensurate with the injuries they do to others, never able to relax. . . . To expect punishment is to suffer it; and to earn it is to expect it.2 

Confucian Golden Mean

The Confucian golden mean is similar to the Greek idea of wholeness where classical Greeks admired the well-rounded person. Balance suggests perspective, not mediocrity.

To the very last no one ever saw Socrates in any particular mood of gaiety or depression. Through all the ups and downs of fortune his was a level temperament.3 

Balance doesn't preclude an extreme position, it merely requires acknowledgment that it is an extreme position and is the appropriate position to take. Any extreme position should be well-considered since zealotry in any form is suspect. Single issue lobbyists frequently take their positions at the expense of perspective. Bodybuilders have cultivated one-dimensionally to perfection. Greeks admired the body, but not at the expense of the whole man. We have lost the balance of the early Greeks.

At the battle of Delium [Socrates] was seen to pick up and rescue Xenophon, who had been thrown from his horse. He was observed always to march into battle and tread on ice with bare feet, to wear the same cloak in winter and summer, to outdo all his comrades in the endurance of hardships, and to eat no more at a banquet than at an ordinary meal. He was seen for twenty-seven years to put up with hunger, poverty, the rebelliousness of his children, the clawings of his wife, and finally with calumny, tyranny, imprisonment, fetters, and poison, all without change of demeanor. But if ever this man was challenged to take part in a drinking-bout he would accept as a matter of courtesy and come off best in it out of the whole army. He never refused to play for nuts with the children, or to race with them on a hobby-horse, and he did this nimbly. For all actions, says philosophy, are equally fitting and equally honourable in a wise man.4 

 

‘In learning, as in all other things, we are addicted to intemperance.’[Seneca, Letters, CVI] And Tacitus is right in praising Agricola's mother for curbing in her son a too fervent appetite for books. . . .

 

The acquisition of learning is much more dangerous than that of any other food or drink. For with other things, we carry home what we have bought in some vessel; and there we have leisure to examine its value and decide how much of it we shall use, and when. But learning we cannot at the outset put in any other vessel but our minds; we swallow it as we buy it, and by the time we leave the market we are already either infected or improved. There is some that only obstructs and burdens us instead of nourishing us; and some too that, while pretending to cure us, gives us poison.5 

 

If anyone tells me that it is degrading to the Muses to use them only as a plaything and a pastime, he does not know, as I do, how valuable pleasure, sport and amusement are. I am almost prepared to say that any other aim is ridiculous. I live from day to day and, with reverence be it said, live only for myself; my purposes go no further. In my youth I studied out of ostentation; later a little to gain wisdom; now for pleasure; but never for the sake of learning.6 

Simplicity

We perceive no beauties that are not sharpened, pricked out, and inflated by artifice. Such as appear in their pure and natural simplicity easily escape a vision as coarse as ours. Theirs is a sign of delicate and hidden beauty; it needs a clear and purified sight to discover their secret brightness. Is not simplicity, according to us, akin to foolishness and an object of scorn? Socrates sets his mind working with a natural and ordinary motion. A peasant says this, a woman says that.7 

     --------------------
1 Confucius. The Wisdom of Confucius. Lin Yutang, ed. New York: Random House, 1938, 1966. Pg. 186.
2 Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Letters from a Stoic. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1969. Pg. 196.
3 Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Letters from a Stoic. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1969. Pg. 192.
4 Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Letters from a Stoic. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1969. Pg. 399.
5 Montaigne, Michele de. Essays. Translation and introduction by j. M. Cohen. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1958. Pp. 313-314.
6 Montaigne, Michele de. Essays. Translation and introduction by j. M. Cohen. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1958. Pg. 263.
7 Montaigne, Michele de. Essays. Translation and introduction by j. M. Cohen. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1958. Pg. 311.

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This page was last updated: Thursday, April 8, 2004 at 5:34:11 PM
Copyright 2014 Stephen B. Waters Weblog at: http://blogs.rny.com/sbw/
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