Virtuous Behavior According to Aristotle and Confucius
The question of what makes a virtuous man has been a concern of philosophers across for centuries. The answers offered often reflect cultural values as well as the individual’s understanding of how virtue should be defined. In the case of Confucius and Aristotle, two ancient philosophers who helped to lay the groundwork for two systems of ethics that still influence people’s thinking today, this is certainly the case. Although fundamental differences in how their societies functioned influenced both thinkers in their definitions of virtue, both systems of thought have one thing in common: they insist on the importance of virtuous action as well as thought as a deciding factor, despite posing conflicting views as to the origin of virtuous thought and what exactly acting virtuously entails.
For both Aristotle and Confucius, virtue is defined not only by thought, but by action. Aristotle believes that “to virtue belongs virtuous activity” (2009), meaning that any action taken, presumably whether virtuous or no, arises directly from the performer’s subjective state. He stipulates that “the state of mind may exist without producing any good result” (Aristotle, 2009), but goes on to point out that it is only through activity that a man’s success at being virtuous can be observed. He compares it to the Olympic games, in which “those who act win, and rightly win, the noble and good things in life” (Aristotle, 2009). Although he does make a distinction between virtue as a state of being and virtuous action as a way of living, without the latter the former is meaningless. Confucius also insists upon external behavior as the defining factor. “Filial piety and fraternal submission,-are they not the root fo all benevolent actions?” (2009), he inquires. Although piety and submission are, according to Confucius, virtuous traits, they do not define a virtuous man unless he should act upon them. Aristotle makes a second comparison between the practice of virtue to the practice of playing music. A lyre player’s success at practicing the lyre can be determined specifically by his abilities as a lyre player. A virtuous man’s success can be determined by whether he thinks and acts “in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete” (Aristotle, 2009), which he considers to be happiness. For Aristotle, the ideas of happiness and virtue are directly related.[“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
According to this Greek philosopher, the root of virtue lies in “the universal good” (Aristotle, 2009), which he attempts to define in his treatise as the pursuit and encouragement of happiness. He defines happiness as the only state that is an end in itself, rather than a means to an end, and insists that virtue and virtuous behavior are directly related to the pursuit of this end. The life of a virtuous man is “in itself pleasant” (Aristotle, 2009), as happiness is, for Aristotle, “the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world” (2009). Achieving happiness through a virtuous life is a general principle that can apply to anyone of any social standing. A virtuous man, instead of behaving according to rigidly prescribed social roles, will “behave so alike towards those he knows and those he does not know” (Aristotle, 2009). This view of virtuous behavior, although it still places an emphasis on an individual’s actions in addition to his thoughts and ideas, is much more unviersal than Confucius’s. As every individual in Confucius’s ancient Chinese world belongs to a rigidly defined social class, his definition of virtuous behavior relates primarily to an individual’s adherence to the standards for behavior applied to his class. He states, for example, that “The superior man thinks of the sanctions of law; the small man thinks of favors which he may receive” (Confucius, 2009). Similarly, a virtuous man, according to Confucius, knows his place in society and acts accordingly both in his interactions with others of the same social class, and those of different social classes. These classes are defined by interpersonal relationships, so that the virtuous behavior of a son toward his father will be inherently different from the virtuous behavior of a leader toward his people. While the son must be concerned with filial piety and submission, the ruler must take responsibility for the people he rules, because “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” (Confucius, 2009). It’s clear that a different level of responsibility for one’s own virtue and the virtue of others is accorded depending on social status. The virtuous behavior of a ruler will manifest itself differently than that of a peasant, and the same man must guage his behavior toward others according to the nature of the relationship.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
The difference between how these two ancient philosophers view virtuous behavior in regards to social standing and interpersonal relationships is directly related to the societies from which they arose. It is not surprising that there should be notable differences between their treatises. What is more surprising and interesting is that both agree on the importance of manifesting virtuous thought through virtuous action, despite defining virtue as having both a different root and a different practical manifestation.[Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
Aristotle (2009). Nichomachean Ethics (W.D. Ross, Trans). The Internet Classics Archive. (Original Work Published 350 B.C.E.)
Confucius (2009). The Analects. The Internet Classics Archive. (Original Work Published c.a. 500 B.C.E.).