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Confucius Teachings of Human Nature and The Concept of Gentleman

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Confucius was famous Chinese philosopher who lived during the Tang Dynasty. He was born around 551 BC and died in 479 BC at around the age of 72. He committed his life to education and took pride in promoting loyalty and respect towards others. Although not much is known about the details of Confucius’s life, we can confidently say that his teachings, as a result of his steadfast determination, became the foundation for much of China’s and other nation’s core ideologies going into the future. Today, his teachings are popular across the world, but are especially so in other Asian nations such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. These nations hold traditional ceremonies each year which encompass Confucius’s works.

Confucius observed and understood humans to be naturally filled with goodness. Evil and hardship is an unavoidable consequence that occurs in life as well. A basic example that fits within Confucianism could possibly be charity. People generally choose to donate time, money and other resources towards helping others who aren’t themselves or directly affiliated with themselves. Confucius, a lot like Socrates, also felt that education is the groundwork for all youth who are shaping who they are as they head into the future. This paper will highlight Confucian thought on these concepts. Confucius only once addressed human nature directly during his life. This was as quoted; “The master said, by nature, near together; by practice far apart”. It is to be said that Confucius meant that goodness is to be taught through application and not through nurturing. It is not an inherent quality that one single individual is born with. Humans almost always naturally have the same wants and needs, however there are exceptions depending on the conditions that one may be born into. The most common being place of birth.

As we grow, our surroundings begin to shape us and that is where we as humans begin to subdivide amongst one another. Our differing experiences and the identities we take on throughout life shape who we are as we grow older. Confucius believed that our commonalities also help us live and grow. The different stages of growth that we all experience are what makes us different. This is the essence of human nature. Due to the very little direct mentions of human nature, we must examine other analects to better understand Confucian thought on goodness and human nature. “The Master said, (the good man) does not grieve that other people do not recognize his merits. His only anxiety is lest he should fail to recognize theirs”. This means that integrity is the key to goodness and humility. People who are satisfied with their own their own actions are a lot better off that those who act simply for praise from others. People who recognize positive qualities can help promote further use of good actions towards others. Learning and deepening our knowledge gives us the tools to take the correct paths in life. If one falls into ignorance, the path that one takes can be dark and unhelpful. The ramifications not only work to the detriment of themselves, but also of others.

“The master said, gentle and never compete. You’ll say that in archery they do so. But even then, they bow way for one another when they’re going up to the archery-ground, when they’re coming down and that the subsequent drinking-bout. Thus, even when competing, they still remain gentlemen”. This section places importance on the idea of ritual and repetition to keep things cordial amongst one another by using the example of archery and the practice of going out afterward with the other competitors. These rituals ground them and keep them essentially good. The want and need to win is considered a sign of weakness. If someone becomes dependent on the need to win without being a gentleman when it’s all said and done, they are only thriving on outside materialistic circumstances for validation. Learning without cooperative attention is not considered “jên”. Jên can be directly translated to mean “humanity”. It is known as the highest Confucian value. “Wealth and rank are what every man desires; but if they can only be retained to the detriment of the way he professes, he must relinquish them. Poverty and obscurity are what every man detests; but if they can only be avoided to the detriment of the way he professes, he must accept them. The gentleman ever parts company with goodness does not fulfil that name. Never for a moment the gentlemen quit the way of goodness is never so harried but that he cleaves to this; never so tottering that he cleaves to this”. This section along with the other sections of book four proclaims that goodness is the building block to honesty and morals. People who are faced with issues and have taken on the concept of jên are ready and willing to deny the idea of evil, no matter how tempting it may be. Confucius spent his life observing and caring about the condition of human beings.

The Analects, in essence, were an ode to his feelings towards making the world a better place, starting with individuals. He was a proponent of self-reflection and the continuous cycle of education to obtain important knowledge in order to ensure that people pursue goodness and not the evil of evil. The ideas of goodness, jên, the notion of the superior man, and ritual and righteousness all contribute to goodness and are at the center of human nature. Through these teachings, we all can understand ourselves better as well as others. The timelessness of the Analects proves that Confucius’s ideas of human nature are true. Technology and how we live has changed over the years but we as humans have existed in the same form with the same basic wants and needs since our very beginnings.

Works Cited

  1. Confucius., and Arthur Waley. The Analects of Confucius. New York: Vintage Books, 1938. Print.
  2. Richey, Jeffrey. “Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence.” Patheos, Patheos Explore the World’s Faith through Different Perspectives on Religion and Spirituality! Patheos Has the Views of the Prevalent Religions and Spiritualities of the World.,
  3. Confucianism,

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