It is evident that there have been radical changes in the political, religious and philosophical structures over time in the world history. One such transformational age was the axial age. Karl Jaspers, a famous German philosophy was the one behind the descriptions of the axial age.
The axial age basically refers to the period between the 800 to 200BC (Morris 458). One of the significant attributes associated with the axial age was the spread of revolutionary thinking. The axial age was originally witnessed in the West, and further spread to Persia and India (Morris 460). The axial thinkers played a significant role in the determining of the nature of the philosophy of the post axial age.
The revolutionary thinkers also had a great influence on religion, and they mostly shared common characteristics with respect to their places of origin. One of the profound and universal trends of the axial thinkers was their views towards religion and philosophy. The spiritual and philosophical frameworks that were laid by the revolutionary axial thinkers are still used in the present date (Freedman 234).
The foundations of humanity during the axial age were laid by individual thinkers of the axis age. The Socrates, Plato and the Aristotle were greatly influenced by the teachings of the axial thinkers. The basic fact that all the axial thinkers had in common was the dire need to discover the basic ideologies of existence and their respective implications on human life (Achebe 67).
Individual axial thinkers in China- Confucius
China was a home to one of the many axial age thinkers: Confucius, Mo Tzu and Lao-Tse. The axial Chinese philosophers laid emphasis on the principles of ethical human existence (Freedman 243). This paper attempts to critically analyze the works of Confucius and how his philosophical perspectives contributed to the transformations of the philosophical schools of thought, his implications on the on the ethical principles of human existence. Arguably, it is evident that Confucianism rose from the teachings of Confucius.
Confucianism is considered as one of the world’s religion which originated from China and subsequently spread to Korea. It is based on ethical and philosophical perspectives of Confucius (K’ung-fu-tzu), an axial age thinker.
The works of Confucius focused morality, both at personal level and government level, the rightness in relation to social relationships, and justice. This ethical and philosophical value were soon integrated into Chinese culture, and as a result, gained dominance compared with other present schools of thought such as Legalism and Taoism (Freedman 249).
Confucius teachings were widely accepted, and as a result, spread further into Europe. Confucius teachings widely drew on the ethical and moral perceptions of the society; his teachings were and still widely accepted as a framework for religious and ethical issues in the society. Confucianism is considered to be more rational compared to the western philosophical perspectives; it draws a correlation in terms of Christian ethics (Morris 470).
An account of the Analects reveals that Confucius laid much prominence on the value of study; as a result he was always viewed as the Greatest Master. Confucius tried to establish a correlation between the theory of life and implications on the society, he wanted his students to analytically and critically study themselves and try to relate with the outside world. In his philosophical work, he used scriptures to relate moral problems that were present during the axial age (Morris 475).
The basic teaching of Confucius was based on individual morality and political morality; his argument was based on doing what is right rather than doing what is to ones advantage.
Simply put, it was the practice which was based on reciprocity, which implies that one should not do to others what he does not want himself or does not want to be done to him. Ruling was to be based on moral example rather than ruling through the use of violence. Confucius was of the view that a ruler who deployed the use of force can be termed unsuccessful in his ruling practice. The Analects depicts that the job of a ruler is to govern, rather than killing.
The Chinese rulers at the axial time did not obey this principle towards the exercising of leadership. Confucianism proposes a government system that is based on ruling by example (Morris 480). Confucius argued that the laws established by the government were meant to put people in line, but governing by virtue would make people to control themselves with or without the presence of the laws and punishments of the government.
The principle of self control is paramount for individual development; this explains why the Chinese have been successful, whenever an opportunity presents itself to do so. Interestingly, the Confucian school of thought condemns the desire to make high profits; this was a negative influence to the prosperity of the Chinese people. Evidently, this principle has been ignored over time (Morris 483).
Another teaching of Confucius was based on the limitations of morality. Morality in itself is a limitation to towards the realization of self interest. Confucius however states that morality should not serve as an excuse to deny oneself. It is based on the principle that, if you do not want it for yourself, then you should not do it for others. Whatever you like for yourself, you should do for others.
A similar implication is depicted in the Analects of Confucius, which is referred to as the principle of mutual profitableness. The principle mutual profitableness is also practiced by the Japanese. Helping yourself and others is the Confucian philosophy and one of the characteristics of Chinese civilizations. The Confucian school of thought is hostile to the desire to make high profits; this is contrary to the principle of mutual profitableness and the principle of self interest (Morris 490).
A critical aspect of the implications Confucius philosophy was that it later became a widely accepted religion among the Chinese. The Confucius aspect of religion was later disputed by Socrates, whose lifetime was after the death of Confucius. It is somewhat interesting to note that the Socrates philosophical projects concerning religion was rejected by the Chinese; this later saw Confucius being made a Chinese god, with every temple in almost every city being dedicated to him.
The Confucianism practices do not conform to the philosophical perspectives of Confucius; however, his perspectives played a significant role in shaping the aspects of Chinese religion. The Confucius ethical and philosophical principles significantly affected Chinese cultural background (Freedman 240). It can be argued that Confucius principles gained dominance because its basis drew a correlation with the Chinese traditions. His political philosophies were based on ethical perspectives of leadership by virtue of example.
Achebe, Chinua. Things fall apart. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann, 1996.
Freedman, Russell. Confucius: the golden rule. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2002.
Morris, Ian. Why the West Rules–for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future. New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.