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The Confucian philosophy dates back to the early 6th century and has been in existence for over 2,500 years (Ruiping 19). For that period, it has played a great role in influencing the development of human rights laws in many societies. The teachings and ideas of Confucianism are diverse and borrow greatly from other schools of thought.
The core teaching is the emphasis on the importance and value of humans. In terms of priority, humans are first, the spirits are second and lastly, the rulers of the world. This has served in the preservation of human rights in different societies of the world. Precisely, its ideas on freedom of speech and expression, fair treatment and equality before the law and its humanistic aspects have laid a basis for the propagation and protection of human rights in the world today (Ruiping 21).
Today’s society has become highly diversified in terms of economic power, politics and culture. Owing to a constantly changing modern society, deliberations and evaluations relating to human rights are directed towards fostering the improvement and protection of human rights with the sole aim of ensuring fair treatment and equality of all.
The Confucian philosophy is a major component of different world cultures whose influence runs deep. In the early years, Confucianism formed a basis of the culture of the Chinese society for many years before the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese philosopher, Confucius, developed Confucianism 2,500 years ago and formed a diversified and highly developed school of thought. It comprises of several fields that include human aspects, political matters, education, ethical issues and law (Ruiping 26).
Even though the revelation of human rights concept is indirect in its teachings, Confucianism contains several ides directly linked to the development of human rights. The exploration of these ideas leads to a greater understanding of how they influence modern human rights in the world today.
The humanistic aspect of Confucianism
Confucianism is founded on humanistic philosophy, expressed through the great attention and priority it accords human beings over other things (Ruiping 41). It promotes the act of doing good and charitable deeds to others that is evident from sayings attributed to Confucius.
As such, it advocates for treatment of human beings with great respect and putting into account that humans are the most important above all else. These humanistic ideas focus on the suffering of the ordinary people through the violation of their human rights. Confucian human rights foster the protection of their rights by encouraging fair and equal treatment.
Concept of human dignity and free conscience
Human rights refer to the human qualifications and rights accorded rightfully to human beings such as personal dignity and free conscience (Ruiping 49). Therefore, respect of personal dignity and personal conscience forms a strong basis for provision of human rights.
As such, the Confucian culture encourages and promotes the ideas of human consciousness and performance of good deeds towards others (Ruiping 51). Doing good to others based on love and respect defines the highest level of human relationships between people in the society. This fosters the concept of benevolence. To be benevolent, an individual has to learn to love other people and practice restraint of desires, overcoming selfishness and obeying laws and rules that propagate good human relations.
Confucius taught that an individual should not undertake, speak or look at anything in defiance of rituals that advance humanity. Free conscience refers to the disposition of a human being to be good and kind towards others. It is symbolic of respect for others and their human rights leads to the distinction between wrong and right, good and bad. This forms a basis for respect of human rights by being good and kind to others, and treating them with respect.
These Confucian concepts reveal that the Confucian culture considers desires and dislikes as a part of the diverse nature of human beings. Confucius once said that all humans have the desire to gain wealth but if they attain it through inappropriate ways, then it should not be accepted and embraced.
This shows the deep teaching on human rights by Confucius. In today’s society, the situation similar. Individuals are fighting hard and relentlessly to gain wealth and power. Violation of human rights is a common phenomenon in the struggle to gain wealth and power and according to Confucianism, it is not humanly right (Ruiping 61). In this case, benevolence and good deeds should be the highlights of seeking wealth by individuals without infringing on the human rights of other people.
The ideas of benevolence and a free conscience apply in conquering certain acquired bad habits as taught by Confucius (Ruiping 67). These concepts borrow from the teaching of doing unto others, as one would love done unto them. They encourage treating and respecting others as we treat and respect ourselves.
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Human nature is wired on pursuing good things while avoiding any potential harm at the same time. Confucius cultivated this sense of personal security and preservation when he taught about treating others and ourselves the same. The same way we will no harm to ourselves, the same way we should will no harm unto others. This has had great impact on human rights in the modern world where human rights violation through selfishness is widespread and extensive.
The concepts of free conscience and human dignity have had great impact to the development and protection of human rights in today’s society (Ruiping 77). They have formed a basis for the establishment of international laws on human rights. Immanuel Kant taught that human beings are not objects and deserve respect and fair treatment. He also emphasized the two concepts and stated that the state exists to serve its people.
Through the centuries, these ideas have formed a foundation for the development of laws that guard human rights (Ruiping 79). This implies that the state should be responsible for protecting the rights of its people. Today, this principle forms a core part of the UN Charter on Human Rights.
Towards the close of the 20th century, this concept, which formed a part of the Confucius teaching on human rights, was incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All these serve to demonstrate the great influence of Confucianism on the development and maintenance of human rights in today’s society.
Equality and fair treatment
Fair treatment and equality before the law is a human right necessity as well as core legal principle. Personal dignity and free conscience, as taught by Confucius, calls for equity and fair treatment before the law (Ruiping 84). Confucius maintained that punishment should be meted on anyone according to the provisions of the law only if found guilty regardless of the social class they occupied.
He believed that even if the ruler of the country was found guilty, then not even his power and influence could alter punishment by law. Another concept of Confucius was the use of virtuous individuals in the governance of a country to ensure the propagation and respect of human rights. As such, Confucianism advocated for use of virtue and law in governance (Ruiping 89). These concepts are important in today’s society in which the rich and mighty get away with their wrongdoing because they possess wealth and power.
Confucianism’s ideas on human rights development also include the concept of fair punishment. It encourages individuals to desist from using the law to seek revenge and treat fellow humans unfairly. Confucius taught that the punishment given to any lawbreaker should be in proportion to the magnitude of the crime to ensure fair treatment and punishment (Ruiping 92).
He mostly advocated for equality to ensure that every individual, rich or poor, powerful or without power received punishment for breaking the law. This concept is a provision in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of France in the year 1789 and serves as a core human rights principle in the constitutional law of many countries of the world. In addition, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has the same provision of equity and fair treatment before the law.
Freedom of speech and expression
The Confucianism ideas on human rights advocate for freedom of ideology and speech as basic human rights that should be accorded to all human beings. Confucius proposed that speech formed the basic avenue of expression of ideas and a way of communication (Ruiping 98).
Understanding others and being understood is a teaching of Confucianism that calls for freedom of speech and expression of ideas as a way of its fulfillment. Confucianism teaches that the law should only punish behavior and not ideas or speech. As such, it encourages individuals to think more since thinking is an honorable act. It reiterates that no individual should be punished because of his thinking ways or speech.
This means that it allows for criticisms on the government that is in power to keep it in check. From this, it is evident that Confucianism advocates for protection of freedom of speech and expression. In today’s society, many governments violate the rights of citizens by imposing limitations and sometimes restricting the freedom of speech and expression. This is done in an effort to avoid criticism from the people because of poor governance and leadership.
The concepts of freedom of speech and ideology that were advocated by Confucianism have a direct influence on modern human rights (Ruiping 101). Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher maintained that the sole purpose of politics is provision of freedom and every individual should be free to express oneself. In most constitutions today’ freedom of speech and expression are listed as human rights that should be enjoyed by all individuals.
The Confucian philosophy dates back to the 6th century and has been in existence for over 2,500 years. The core teaching of Confucianism is its emphasis on the importance and value of humans. In terms of priority and importance, human beings are first, spirits second and lastly, the rulers of the world.
This has served in the preservation of human rights in different societies of the world. Precisely, its ideas on freedom of speech and expression, fair treatment and equality before the law and its humanistic aspects have laid a basis for the propagation and protection of human rights in the world today. Therefore, Confucianism ideas on human rights have had great influence on the development of modern human rights.
Ruiping, Fan. Reconstructionist Confucianism: Rethinking Morality after the West. New York, Springer, 2009. Print.