After talking so much merits of Confucianism’s positive influence in the Chinese history, we also need some perspective. Does Confucianism stop people from hypocrisy in their behavior? No. Does Confucianism keep the corruption from happening in the society? No. Does Confucianism prevent the dynasties from collapse? No. Does Confucianism have its limitation or backward unprogressive elements? Yes. But what it does provide to us is a bottom baseline sense of truth and false on most of conduct standards. And the fact that China is the only ancient civilizations still existing to this day, to certain degree, attributes to the teachings of Confucianism.
I did not have Confucianism in my formal school education. It was totally removed from our textbooks during Culture Revolution. But its teaching come from many other literature sources here and there, little by little, infiltrate my mind throughout the time. I read them from classical novels, from references in the newspaper articles, from youth magazines, from stories of historical figures and popular culture practices etc. They left mark in the depth of my mind and gradually add up. And before I realize it, it became part of value system and the idealism that inspire me. The tradition thus asserts its powerful influence passing down from generation to generation.
But ethical education is not just an Eastern culture phenomenon. In the West there are monumental figures in the history of thinking mind that emphasize the importance of ethics. One of these people who has been occupying my mind these couple of days is Immanuel Kant – the 18th century German classical philosopher who wrote his great Critiques beginning in 1781.
Quoting from Wikipedia, Kant was the foremost thinker of the Enlightenment and is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. His systematic and comprehensive work on ethics and aesthetics inaugurated a new era in the development of philosophical thought and thus greatly influenced all subsequent philosophies and school of thoughts. Here I want to quote some of Immanuel Kant’s words as reminiscent of some great ideas Western tradition once so cherished with:
- What can I know? What ought I to do? What can I hope?
- All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.
- All thought must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters, relate ultimately to intuitions, and therefore, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us.
- Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.
- In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so.
- Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe – the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.
- Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.
- Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.
- So act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world.
- May you live your life as if the maxim of your actions were to become universal law.
- Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of few; and number not voices, but weigh them.
- It is not necessary that whilst I live I live happily; but it is necessary that so long as I live I should live honourably.
- Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination.
- Metaphysics is a dark ocean without shores or lighthouse, strewn with many a philosophic wreck.
Another great mind of our time, English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, has just recently passed away. To pay salute to him and honor his great work, I also want to bring you attention to some of the questions pondered by Hawking in his groundbreaking book “A Brief History of Time”: “We find ourselves in a bewildering world. What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?” Let’s meditate on those questions in our heart and allow the answer come from within to guide us “what ought to do”.