When studying the teachings of Confucius and Socrates it is very easy to come to the conclusion that their beliefs were drastically different from one another. Although this is partially true, there are many elements and core values that remain the same within both of these philosophers’ thinkings. In fact, many beliefs are almost identical between the two forms of philosophy, there are just different terms used to describe the ideas. Keeping this in mind, it is fair to say that the teachings of Confucius and Socrates do vary greatly from one another on several of their most prominent beliefs.
Moral Commitments are a perfect example of how the two philosophers held similar beliefs but also had major differences in their teachings. When faced with his own death, Socrates did not try to run away from his fate because that would have meant that he would have had to break the law that had been created by his peers, and yet when these same peers asked him to stop his teachings, he refused because it would be against the will of the Gods. Socrates always reacted to every situation in his life with the most correct response, the response that would do the most good. This explains why he was so willing to live with his wrongful sentence to death, and yet defy those same people who gave him this sentence by refusing to give up his quest for knowledge.
Socrates had a very deep moral commitment to seeking out wisdom and never ceasing to do so. Very similarly, Confucius had a moral commitment to following the dao and the ancient wisdom of his ancestors. The simple definition of dao is the way, meaning the way people should behave and what morals they possess. Confucius believed fully in the dao and the pattern of the yin-yang, the opposite sides; such as day and night or light and dark. Like Socrates, he believed that you must never stop gaining knowledge. So although these two thought processes are different from one another they do both carry the same message. That there is no end to the amount of knowledge a person can carry and that in order to gain true wisdom a person must be able to recognize what they do not know.
Religious Beliefs are another area in which Socrates and Confucius differ in beliefs, and yet somehow their ideas turn out to be very similar. As mentioned before, Socrates was always trying to please the gods with his actions and was capable of doing so thanks to his divine sign. This sign can be compared to a person’s conscious, the voice of reason in a person’s mind, and it provided Socrates with the knowledge of right and wrong in every situation he was in. Socrates also compared himself to a gadfly by saying, “… I think that I am the gadfly that God has sent to the city to attack it…” (Church 60) Essentially, he was sent by God to remind the people of what is really important in life and by killing him they were doing themselves an injustice.
Confucius, on the other hand, believed very deeply in Tian, a heaven of sorts. He thought that Tian was more important than anything people were capable of and that his actions were the direct reflection of what Tian willed. He also believed that he would not perish until he had finished doing all that Tian intended him to do. When looking at these two religious beliefs, fundamentally they are very different, but their key points are almost identical; that both men were there to serve a specific purpose and they had been sent to do so by beings superior to themselves. Wisdom plays a major role in both of these types of philosophy and does so in very similar ways, but with different core values.
Socrates spoke of the Delphic oracle, which said that there was no man smarter than him, and how his wisdom did not come from having vast amounts of knowledge, but from having the knowledge of what he does not know. This idea was carried throughout all of his teachings and created a foundation of logic for his philosophy to be built upon. He found himself winning arguments about almost any subject and constantly proving the Oracle right; which ultimately became his downfall.
Therefore, Socrates interpreted the word wisdom as meaning logical facts that can be proven. Confucius also put great emphasis on wisdom within his teaching, but he took a different approach to what the word means. For Confucius, in order to find true wisdom a person must constantly continue to better themselves throughout their life and learn from the ancestors. A person starts by learning and respecting their family and then slowly moves on to greater and greater tasks as their life moves along.
Different ages bring different challenges and roles and those must all be taken on with a happy attitude and a person’s best foot forward. Although their definitions of wisdom might be completely different, Confucius also put great emphasis on that fact that in order to truly be wise, a person must know what they do not know. Even though their definitions of being wise are not the same, what they believe should be done with that knowledge remains the same.
It isn’t much of a challenge to recognize that Socrates and Confucius had different beliefs, but when taking a closer look at the two philosophers it is also not very hard to point out the numerous similarities between them. Both men had very strong feeling in regards of moral commitments, religious beliefs, and wisdom, and in general, the basics of each of their teachings turned out to be very closely related to one another. Even those these men came from very different backgrounds, they both managed to come up with very similar theories as to how the world works; which makes a person wonder if maybe or not they really were on to something.
- Confucius. Waley, Arthur. The Analects of Confucius. New York: Vintage Books, 1938. Print.
- Plato. Church, F.J.The Trial, and Death of Socrates: Being the Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo of Plato. University of California Libraries, MSN, New York: Macmillan, 1895