Confucius Philosophy and Sayings
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Confucius's philosophy

Confucius
Later portrait of Confucius,
from the provincial museum of Shandong, China

Confucius was a philosopher in ancient China, about 500 BC. His main idea was that people could achieve peace by doing their duty, and cooperating with society. If people rebelled, and everyone tried to do his or her own thing, then the world would be full of fighting and unhappiness.

So people should obey the law, and do what the emperor and government officials told them to do. Also, people should do their duty to their parents and take good care of their children, and people should do their duty to their ancestors and to the gods.


Mr. Zoller's great video about Confucius

At the same time, the government should do its duty to the people, and not abuse them or ask too much of them. The emperor should be cooperative and helpful to the people, just as the people were helpful and cooperative to him.

Because Confucius wanted to make government officials behave better, the Chinese government did not like him while he was alive. But after Confucius died, later emperors of China did use many of his ideas. Of course they mainly liked the idea that people should obey the government, and they weren't so interested in the idea that the government should help the people!

Here's an example of a story people told about Confucius:

Zi Lu, they say, asked Confucius, "When we hear a good idea, should we start to do it right away?" Confucius told him no. "First, you should always ask someone with more experience." Later on, Ran You asked Confucius the same question. But this time Confucius said, "Yes, of course you should do it right away." There was another student who had heard both of these conversations and was very confused. He asked Confucius why he had answered the same question in two different ways?
"Ran You has a hard time making a decision," Confucius said. "So I encouraged him to be bolder. Zi Lu sometimes decides things too quickly. So I reminded him to be careful. Naturally different people should get different answers. "


More about Confucius' life

Bibliography and further reading about Confucius:

Life of Confucius
Taoism
Buddhism
Chinese Philosophy page
Ancient China
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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