The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Texts/Analects/Virtue

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Virtue[edit | edit source]

Virtue is a characteristic inside oneself that leads them on the right path and keeps one from going astray. Notably, virtue seems to be about doing things "for the right reasons." An example of this is in book 12 number 21 Fan Chi asks how having virtue can rid oneself of wickedness. A way that this is done is through "putting the job first and what you get out of it last." This is another way of saying that you need to put your own self interest on the back burner and worry about what needs to get done. The idea is to put others first and for the right reasons essentially. In the original quote Confucius goes on to say that one should critique oneself before getting involved with someone else's shortcomings or "wickedness." This is part of the quote that made a lot of sense to me. If everyone were to work on themselves before worrying about everyone else the world would be a lot less negative and chaotic.

In many quotes virtue is talked about as something that needs to be exalted and will aid in clearing up negative consequences. In book 12 number 10 goes "Zizhang asked about exalting virtue and clearing up confusions. The Master said: "Exalting virtue consists of making loyalty and good faith into one's main principles and moving towards rightness." This quote implies that virtue is a stepping stone to living a better life in general. If one demonstrates virtue, certain confusions would never occur. In theory this makes sense, however it is easier said than done.

Similarly compared to other Confucius quotes saying if you were to only demonstrate this one characteristic, in this case Virtue, then everything else will fall into place. In Epictetus's Handbook[1], Epictetus (greek philosopher) falls into this same category of advice giving. Simple advice is nice in theory but exceedingly difficult to execute. In both cases, only a few quotes are still applicable to today and not only that but only some will work for an individual. For example, number 5 made sense to me personally because the "choosing your mind set" thing is something I have heard before and semi believe in. However I could see how many people would disagree and even find this idea offensive and insulting. Specifically people suffering from depression being told just to choose to be happy. Another piece of advice that rang true for me was from the text: The Instruction of Amenemope[2] in chapter 3, specifically the line "Pause before a foe, bend before an attacker, sleep (on it) before speaking." Similar to what Confucius had to say about virtue, this quote implies that haste is not your friend. That sometimes the best course of action is to not even engage in a conflict that no good can come out of. It goes without saying but the idea of sleeping on something before taking action is still widely used today. Not only that but the whole quote just seems to advise people to pick their battles and choose wisely when to act and when to step away.

Conversely, in Plato's Five Dialogues there does not seem to be much talk of Virtue, or instructions on how to live correctly in such straight forward means. Instead it is a lot of Socrates acting like he is superior while also trying to impart a lesson on whomever he is speaking to. In the first dialogue with Euthyphro, Socrates asks him to define piety. This is because Euthyphro is citing this as his reason for taking his father to court. The whole conversation goes around and around with Euthyphro contradicting himself with all of Socrates' questions. A prime example of this is how Euthyphro cites piety as what the Gods want, then at the end of the dialogue that is once again the explanation of piety. In this case it seems Socrates is trying to get Euthyphro to understand this his logic is flawed, and that if he is going to sue his father for murder he should have a more air tight case. The central idea stays the same in the next chapter Apology. Socrates is making a case for himself about why he is not guilty and that their logic is skewed. Not only that but he is offering the solution of bringing new ideas to Athens and how being close minded is hurting them, not helping.

8 Cardinal Virtues of Confucianism[edit | edit source]

Within Confucianism, it is important to note that there are 8 cardinal virtues one is expected to follow in order to achieve "moral excellence." They are known as: Zhong” (loyalty), “Xiao” (filial piety), “Ren” (benevolence), “Ai” (affection), “Xin” (trustworthiness), “Yi” (righteousness), “He” (harmony), and “Ping” (peace). Each one of these virtues can be seen through the Analects with the different teachings and sayings said by the Master and other figures. Virtue itself is an umbrella concept as is, and it is important to note how all of these other sub divisions can relate and help one achieve a true sense of virtue. If you look under other wikipedia pages with the topic of virtue, you can see in text examples of the 8 cardinal virtues as well as definitions. The overarching concept of virtue stems from the idea of "moral righteousness" in a sense. When someone has good morals, they have potential to have good virtue as well. While reading The Analects it is important to note how each of these 8 cardinal virtues overall relate to the big concept of virtue, and how they can help ultimately define what virtue is and how one can have "good virtue." Loyalty, Filial Piety, Benevolence, Affection, Trustworthiness, Righteousness, Harmony and Peace are all smaller concepts that can even play a role in your own personal virtue. Whether you are loyal and trustworthy, peaceful and righteous, or all of the 8 cardinal virtues-- you still carry important aspects to (arguably) help achieve your true sense of virtue.

History of Virtue[edit | edit source]

The idea of virtue originally derives from the age old concept of ethics. It is important to note how ethics have plaid a large role in multiple philosophies across the world. From Confucianism China, to Stoicism in Ancient Greece. Ancient philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, and Confucius have attempted to understand the true ethics of oneself, and how it can ultimately affect an individual's character and morals. Specifically, the concept of virtue falls under the idea of one's ethics and has sense played a huge role in determining one's "moral righteousness." Within the Analects there are multiple instances where virtue itself, or one of the 8 cardinal virtues is shown within the text:

"Virtue is not solitary. It is bound to have neighbors," [3] (Confucius and the Analects, p.g 15).

Another notable quotation of virtue would be, "Exalting virtue consists of making loyalty and good faith into one's main principles and moving towards rightness," (Confucius and the Analects, p.g 46). Virtue has a huge role within Confucius's teachings and overall can be seen multiple times throughout his writing and ideas.

Virtue also has a role to play within Plato's Five Dialogues: Meno[4]. In Meno, Socrates and Meno question the definition of virtue and what its true meaning is. After going back and fourth arguing and questioning each other multiple times they decide that they themselves do not know the true meaning of virtue and how it falls under one's personal ethics. Some notable examples of Socrates and Meno's argument are:

Meno: "Can you tell me, Socrates, can virtue be taught? Or is it not teachable but the result of practice, or is it neither of these, but men possess it in nature or in some other way?" (p.g 59)  

Meno: "A man's virtue consists of being able to manage public affairs and in doing so to benefit his friends and harm his enemies and to be careful that no harm comes to himself," (p.g 60)  

Socrates: "If then virtue is something in the soul and it must be beneficial, it must be knowledge, since all the qualities of the soul are in themselves neither beneficial nor harmful, but accompanied by wisdom or folly they become harmful or beneficial. This argument shows that virtue, being beneficial, must be a kind of wisdom." (p.g 81)

Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. "UNC Asheville - Learn On Line: Log in to the site". Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  2. "UNC Asheville - Learn On Line: Log in to the site". Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  3. "The Analects (Oxford World's Classics) by Confucius, Raymond Dawson (Translator): New Paperback (2008) | Ergodebooks". Retrieved 2020-10-19.
  4. "Plato Five Dialogues Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo 2nd". originalpdf. Retrieved 2020-10-27.