Sunday, September 28, 2014

366. Confucius and the Formation of the American Virtue

Today, September 28, is the birthday of Confucius, the great teacher of morals. In order to celebrate the day, I post the following paragraph from Dr. Dave Wang's Paper, CONFUCIUS IN THE AMERICAN FOUNDING: THE FOUNDERS’ EFFORTS TO USE CONFUCIAN MORAL PHILOSOPHY IN THEIR ENDEAVOR TO CREATE NEW VIRTUE FOR THE NEW NATION . It was published by Virginia Review of Asian Studies,Vol. 16 (2014), pp.11-26.

During the founding of the United States, the Founding Fathers “managed to establish a set of ideas and institutions that, over the stretch of time, became the blueprint for political and economic success for the nation-state in the modern world.” My intent is to bring to light to what was the founders’ efforts to adopt some principles of Confucian moral philosophy and made them into the fiber of the new virtue met the requirement of a free and democratic society. The founders tried to develop good morals to ensure that the democratic system would function in correct direction. They attempted to use Confucian moral philosophy to safeguard the democratic system, build private virtue, and bring up citizens with good morals to serve the new nation. Through the founders’ efforts, Confucian moral philosophy contributed greatly to the formation of the American virtue.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

365. Confucianism Had Definite Appealing to Thomas Jefferson

As one of the main founders of the new nation, Thomas Jefferson eventually became the third president of the nation after his victory in the election of 1800. For Jefferson who tired of metaphysics, a practical religion that advanced private virtue, such as Confucianism has a definite appeal. As president, Jefferson realized the importance of Confucian values to keep his ideals alive and move the country forward. His inauguration speech reflected his thoughts on how to make the United States a great nation.

Remarkably, Jefferson showed his confidence in using Confucian moral values in his efforts to lead the new nation in 1801. In front of the representatives celebrating his victory, Jefferson made the following statement: Let us then, with courage and confidence, pursue our own federal and republican principles; our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; …. enlightened by a benign religion, professed indeed and practised in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude and the love of man, acknowledging and adoring an overruling providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here, and his greater happiness hereafter; with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

364. Benjamin Franklin and Confucius' Principle of Leadership

Confucius maintained that the people should be led by leaders who governed through their virtue rather than using their laws. He believed that if a government rested its rule entirely on laws, its people would try to escape punishment and have no sense of shame. Therefore, he reasoned that if the people were led by virtue, they would possess a sense of shame and follow their leaders through their own will. 【第一章】子曰、為政以德、譬如北辰、居其所、而眾星共之。 CHAP. I. The Master said, ''He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.'' 【第三章】【一節】子曰、道之以政、齊之以刑、民免而無恥。【二節】道 之以德、齊之以禮、有恥且格。 CHAP. III. 1. The Master said, ''If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. 2. ''If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame, and moreover will become good.''

In 1778, two years after the colonists declared their independence, Franklin addressed the significance of the morality. He pointed out the necessity of governing with morality, especially for the leaders of the United States. He told his fellow Americans that laws were not enough for the new nation: "What the political struggle I have been engag’d in for the good of my compatriots, inhabitants of this bush; or my philosophical studies for the benefits of our race in general! For in politics, what can laws do without morals? Our present race of ephemeras will in a course of minutes become corrupt like those of other and older bushes, and consequently as wretched."

Monday, September 8, 2014

363. Prominent Colonists and Confucian Moral Philosophy

Some prominent figures of the day also recognized the value of Confucian teachings. For instance, John Bartram (1699-1777), a well-known botanist in the colonies, was very interested in Chinese philosophy, particularly in the personality of Confucius. Bartram’s paper, “Life and Character of the Chinese Philosopher Confucius,” introduced Confucius’ life to his readers. James Logan (1674-1751), another very influential colonist in Philadelphia, acquired a copy of the first European printing of Confucius philosophy for his personal library in 1733.

Logan was not satisfied with the translation by the Jesuits and showed his desire to obtain the “true sense” of Confucianism. Joel Barlow (1754-1812), an American poet and diplomat, considered Confucius to be one of the wisest philosophers in the history of antiquity. Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826), a notable geographer, praised Daxue (大学 Great Learning) and Zhongyong (中庸 the Doctrine of the Mean), two of the four classics of Confucius.

Morse extolled the two classics as “the most excellent precepts of wisdom and virtue, expressed with the greatest eloquence, elegance and precision.” Morse also compared Confucius with Socrates. He pointed out that Confucius was “very striking, and which far exceeds, in clearness, the prophecy of Socrates." A contemporary author found that Morse's high praise of the Chinese sage “is especially significant” because Morse wrote his Geography for the youth of America and “considered it a means of instructing students in patriotism and morality."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

362. The American Revolution: A Moral Revolution

The great founders’ collective esteem of Confucius during the formation of the United States has stimulated my curiosity to find why Confucius’ moral teachings became so important. The American Revolution was a political revolution which marked the birth of the United States as a new nation. However, it was also simultaneously a moral revolution.

While the founders were concerned with preserving their civil liberties and economic freedom through their stance, “no taxation without representation,” they were also concerned with public morality. They fully understood that the war was as much a battle against “the corruption of 18th century British high society” as it was against financial oppression. As a result, the founding fathers were determined to construct new virtues responding to the needs of the new nation. Having seen the results of the moral corruption in the old world, the founders worked diligently to use all valuable moral resources available for them to create virtues for the new nation.