A lesson from Confucius

I have been reading lots lately about Japanese ethics and morality, and in particular Bushido – Japanese chivalry. I bought an excellent book to read on the plane back; I actually nearly finished it before even getting on the plane! The work, entitled Bushido – The Soul of Japan – is an extremely thorough examination of Bushido as seen through the eyes of its author, Dr. Inazo Nitobe, a scholar of some note. Written in 1905, the book is unique in that it was written in English by someone with personal experience of Bushido as a living entity. The result is a rare insight into this often misunderstood aspect of Japanese culture.

The Bushido tradition connects with many other schools of thought and philosophies. Among them, Confucian teachings. In researching this aspect, I came across a very interesting Confucian political theory concerning social morality that has particular resonance with my thoughts on modern British culture (or lack therefore!)

Confucius’ political thought is based upon his ethical thought. He argues that the best government is one that rules through “rites” and people’s natural morality, rather than using bribery and force. He explained that this is one of the most important analects:

“If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame.”

“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.” 

This “sense of shame” is an internalisation of duty, where the punishment precedes the evil action, instead of following it in the form of laws as in Legalism.

Somebody please tell Mr Brown!

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