Changing Representations of Confucius
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1. Changing representations of Confucius. At the time of the writing of the Zhuangzi, Confucius was already an ancient and revered teacher. What role does Confucius play in later Warring States texts?Confucius, or Kongzi, played a significant role in the intellectual and cultural milieu of the Warring States period (475–221 BCE) in China, which was a time of great philosophical ferment and social upheaval. Although he lived in the Spring and Autumn period (771–476 BCE), his teachings and legacy continued to be influential well into the Warring States period and beyond.
In the Zhuangzi, which was written during the Warring States period, Confucius is often portrayed as a foil to the Daoist ideals espoused by the text’s eponymous protagonist, Zhuangzi. Confucius is depicted as a rigid and dogmatic thinker who is overly concerned with rules, rituals, and social conventions. By contrast, Zhuangzi is presented as a free-spirited philosopher who champions individualism, spontaneity, and the pursuit of personal happiness.
Other Warring States texts, such as the Analects of Confucius, offer a more nuanced view of Confucius and his teachings. The Analects contains a collection of sayings and conversations attributed to Confucius and his disciples, and it presents Confucius as a wise and compassionate teacher who sought to promote ethical behavior and social harmony through the cultivation of moral character and the practice of ritual propriety.
In later Warring States texts, such as the Mencius and the Xunzi, Confucius’s ideas are developed and expanded upon by his disciples and their followers. Mencius, for example, emphasized the innate goodness of human nature and the importance of cultivating one’s innate moral tendencies, while Xunzi emphasized the role of education and ritual in shaping moral behavior.
2. Zhuangzi’s legends about “sages” are unique in the Chinese tradition. What, for Zhuangzi, makes a person a sage? You may want to discuss the importance of skills, “knack,” and the mastery of crafts. Give examples to illustrate your discussion.3. How is an explicit view of human nature fundamental to the ethical and political thought of Xunzi? What was the nature of his disagreements with Mencius on this basic question? (How) does Xunzi’s view of human nature affect his views on other issues? For example, why is ritual so important to Xunzi, and what does he mean by the term?
4. Warfare was a major concern in Warring States China. Discuss the place of a philosophy of martiality (or its absence) in at least three Warring States texts. You may want to consider the Analects, the early Mohists, the Sunzi, the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi, the Mencius and the Xunzi. Did these writers think that conflict was inevitable? How did mastery of warfare figure in Chinese portrayals of sagacity?
5. Compare the descriptions of dao 道or “the Way” in the Analects, the Daodejing, the Sunzi and the Zhuangzi.
6. Compare the values of early Confucian ethics (in the Analects, Mencius and/or Xunzi) with one or two Western philosophers’ arguments on the similar topics.
7. Contrast the role of tian or Heaven (the heavens, nature) in at least two texts you have read.
8. Many contemporary scholars have tried to apply virtue ethics to Chinese philosophy. Critically discuss two such attempts.
9. Discuss the topic of fatalism as it appears in at least two texts you have read this term.