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."

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