Confucius and Aristotle on Virtue – Comparative Essay


The philosophical works of Aristotle and Confucius build a great basis on which humans derive virtues to achieve a good life as depicted in The Nicomachean Ethics and The Analects. The paper presents an understanding of the virtuous ethical theories through the approach of studying the Aristotelian and Confucian ethical theories(Aristoteles & Ross, 2007).

This research paper on the various perspectives of Confucius and Aristotle on Virtue presents a tour de force of etymological analysis and comparative philosophy. It provide an excellent platform on which a methodology of mirroring demonstrates the power of comparative philosophy in providing new philosophical insights.

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Comparison of the teachings of Confucius and Aristotle.

When we apply the use of the European criterion which states that good philosophy must provide arguments, there are interesting observations we deduce from the arguments put forth by these two renowned philosophers. Taking the question of human nature, the Confucian tradition offers a fairly sophisticated theoretical discussion with complete arguments. On the other hand, Aristotle’s coverage of virtue is criticized to be not easy to understand(Aristoteles & Ross, 2007). Moreover, Aristotle believes that rationality is what is unique to human nature and this is poorly justified. Generally the Nicomachean Ethics is not a paradigm of logical consistency, definitional clarity, and rigorous argumentation.

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Both Confucius and Aristotle reject the Socratic point of view that virtue alone is sufficient for one to have happiness, and as long as they would agree that happiness comes about through the process of self-examination, they wouldn’t favor cross-examination, at least not the sometimes brutal Socratic elenchus. Confucius has deep affection and love for his rich cultural past. For both Confucius and Aristotle, emulating virtuous persons, ritualization and habituation is essential for the good life(Confucius &Soothill, 2009).

On the discussion of the relationship between virtue and highest good, Aristotle believes that the highest good is not a virtue, but rather, it iseudaimonia, the state of having a good soul(Pangle, 2003). When we take an age-old challenge of reconciling this perspective of the middle books of the Nicomachean Ethics and Book X, in which blessedness (makrios) and contemplation (theoria)replaces a eudaimoniaproduced by phronesis.

It is of great significance to note that only the Confucius’ highest good is moral, since there is lack of moral content in pure rational activity (Aristoteles & Ross, 2007). Aristotle believes that human beings at their highest state bask in divine intelligence, while the Confucian sages have perfected the virtue that Heaven has given them.

Both Aristotle and Confucius have a common believe that real friends are for mutual good. Aristotle states in the TheNicomachean Ethicsthat the partners in a perfect friendship love each other for themselves, cherishing each other for their charactersbut not for the incidental benefit that they offer to each other. This would mean that Aristotle was hinting that it is through openness to pleasure but not in our need for what is good which make us come together to cherish one another simply for what he is. In The Analects, Confucius argues that “The gentleman…uses friends in helping him become humane.” Even when he is a company of peers he is bound to finding his teacher amongst them.

When Aristotle asks the reader, “is it only when his life is completed that a man can rightly be called happy?” Then, this shows that it is the virtuous activities which determine our happiness. Therefore, a happy man spends all his time in virtuous conduct and contemplation and this makes him happy throughout his life (Pangle, 2003). On the other hand, Confucius states that the core value would be ren, which translates as humaneness or benevolence. As long as the idea of ren is not explained in the Analects, through the Chinese interpretation it means a relationship between two or more, for instance, relationship between an individual and the society.

The Difference between ancient Chinese culture and ancient Greece Culture

The ancient Chinese culture held with highest esteem that there was nothing comparable to theoriaand the lack of such a distinction between the practical and theoretical aspects constitutes the strongest contrast between Confucian and European thinking.

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The comparison brought forth by the Greece and Chinese point of philosophical approach to human lives on a daily basis can be applied to ethics in the modern context, for instance, a diverse workplace. This entails caring about the relationship between the individual and the society (Confucius &Soothill, 2009). This therefore gives emphasis on how we can achieve perfect friendship characterized by deep familiarity, permanence, generosity and frequency of interaction. This ensures that a setting of diverse knowledge, cultures and societal backgrounds, individuals to develop common interests, desires and tastes, even though they don’t need to agree in everything. The individuals need to be virtuous to be good friends and thus such a friend would always desire the good for the other. Therefore, a virtuous friendship is selflessness and a diverse workplace with true friends experiences a culture of wishing what is good for each other’s sake.

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The works of The Analects and The Nicomachean of Confucius and Aristotle respectively invokes a critical aspect of thinking in our minds as human beings. The works show a certain degree of objectivity which must be claimed for the moral insights attained in a virtue ethic if presented as real life options. It is important that we acknowledge the element of universality to a virtue ethic in the form of substantialist claims on human nature-which reduces any virtue ethic to just “notional” curiosity.

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