Saturday, July 20, 2013

317. Benjamin Franklin and Filial Piety

Filial piety is considered a key virtue in Chinese culture. In Confucian philosophy, filial piety (Chinese: 孝, xiào) is a virtue of respect for one's parents and ancestors. Benjamin Franklin regarded himself a filial son. We know this by the fact that Franklin had the following sentence inscribed in his parents’ marble stone monument. “Their youngest son, In filial regard to their memory, Places this stone.”

This inscription is very important for us to understand Franklin’s attitudes towards Confucian Moral philosophy. His use of the word filial in this way is surprising, given his attitude towards organized religion and worship. Franklin took Confucius traditional step in "Regard" to the "Memory" of his parents. This "Memory" here isn't just Franklin's personal memory of his parents and it is another hard evidence of showing Franklin’s following Confucian moral philosophy in cultivating his private virtue.

We may find some notion of filial piety in Western history. However, it is well-known that there is no concept of filial piety same as that of ancient Chinese in the western civilization, including the ancient Greek civilization represented by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle; the ancient Hebrew Judaism civilization, and the ancient Roman civilization.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

316. Confucius in the American Founding

Confucius and the founding of the United States don’t look like a pair. Confucius, the Latinized name of Kongzi (c. 550-476 B.C.), was a great philosopher and educator who lived at the end of “the Spring and Autumn Period” (770-475 B.C.) in China. The founding of America was a period in which the founders of the United States waged their death-or-life struggle to overthrow the imperialist rule of the Great Britain. Though the two are seemingly unrelated, in actuality a close relationship existed between them.

The United States’ founders applied many values from Confucian moral philosophy during founding of the United States. The founders’ appreciation of Confucian ideas can be seen in the house of James Madison (1751-1836), father of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, who had a portrait of Confucius hanging in his Virginia home. In addition to Madison, Thomas Paine (1737-1809), author of Common Sense, considered the Chinese sage to be in the same category as Jesus and Socrates. Furthermore, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), the Creator of the American Spirit, made the solemn statement that Confucian moral philosophy was valuable to the human being in general. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, also promoted Confucius moral principles in his inaugural speech in 1801. In his personal scratch book, Jefferson placed a poem about an ideal Chinese prince that was recommended by Confucius.

Other founders such as John Adams (1735-1826) and Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) also regarded Confucius highly in their efforts to make a blueprint for the new nation. These founders urged the citizens of the new nation to adopt positive elements from Confucian moral philosophy and followed moral examples established by Confucius to cultivate and advance their own virtues.