Virtue is a characteristic in which every being should strive for. After reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Confucius’ Analects, I believe virtue is both a state of mind and actions that reflect a high moral value; you are respectful and mindful of all actions and people around you and strive to become the best version of yourself. From Aristotle to Confucius; virtue spans different parts of a person’s life.
Virtue according to Aristotle is vague. He believed that a being of high virtue is someone that knows how to handle every situation thrown at them. They can be confident without being arrogant, they are brave but not reckless and is someone that knows what to say in all situations. Aristotle had a vague definition of virtue because every person and situation will be different. It was not about having a set of rules or guidelines to follow; it was about developing your character to reflect these high morals. Aristotle believed that “we learn an art by doing that which we wish to do when we have learned it; we become builders by building, and harpers by harping.” (pg.34) To Aristotle our training to become good and virtuous starts from birth by emulating a being of high moral value. We have no experience ourselves to draw upon for difficult situations, therefore, copying someone is the best way to learn. Another part of Aristotle’s definition of virtue is the importance of vices. “The man who shuns and fears everything and never makes a stand, becomes a coward; while the man who fears nothing at all, but will face anything, becomes foolhardy. So, too, the man who takes his fill of any kind of pleasure, and abstains from none, is a profligate, but the man who shuns all (like him whom we call a “boor”) is devoid of sensibility. *Thus, temperance and courage are destroyed both by excess and defect but preserved by moderation.” (pg.36) From this excerpt, Aristotle explains the need of vices. There is a vice of deficiency and a vice of excess, we must find the mean of these two in every situation and that mean is the virtuous action.
On the other hand, Confucius has taken a similar but overall different approach to virtue. The Analects serves anecdotes for the problems we face every day and how we should go about thinking about certain issues. Confucius has a more holistic view, to be of high moral standing you must be virtuous in not only your actions but your thoughts as well. To Confucius there are five constant virtues, benevolence (rei), ritual propriety (li), righteousness (yi), wisdom (zhi), and integrity (xin). Confucius believed that you must constantly cultivate these virtues; moral character and wisdom is a work of a lifetime. We must put more energy into changing our bad acts so we can achieve true intelligence, accomplishment and wisdom. One virtue that stuck out to me was the importance of li or ritual propriety. In a conversation with Confucius, “Meng Yizi asked about filiality. The Master said, “Never disobey.” Fan Chi was driving the master’s chariot, and the Master told him, “Meng Yizi asked me about filiality, and I replied, ‘Never disobey.’” Fan Chi said, “What did you mean?” The Master said, “While they are alive, serve them according to li. When they are dead, bury them according to li; sacrifice to them according to li.” (Book II 2.5) Confucius believed that we must put all our respects to our elders, especially family members; to listen and obey them. To have enough humility to understand that they hold more wisdom because their experiences are greater than our own. We must trust that they know better than us because moral life starts in the family. In accordance to li it is important to be near them when we are older, care for them when they are old and to remember them in death. Another part of li that struck me was the adherence to rituals. With rituals, we must follow them because they help us to understand how to act in certain situations and make our intentions clear.
There are some overlap between Aristotle and Confucius’ teachings of virtue. They both do not have a rule book of actions to follow, instead you must work on developing a virtuous character. One common theme was to respect others in social and family interactions as well as friends and strangers. Both focus on reciprocity as well; to treat others the way you would want to be treated. To keep in mind that your actions and words reflect good intentions and to not do unnecessary harm on others. Another overlap is that we strive to teach others what it means to be good and virtuous. We must surround ourselves with people willing to change for the better and to correct them when they are wrong and not performing virtuous acts. They both also believes that virtue is a life time pursuit. It is a difficult journey that does not always have good moments. In terms of respect, reciprocity and spreading virtue to others, Aristotle and Confucius teachings are aligned.
One aspect that differs Confucius and Aristotle is that Confucius took a more holistic approach to virtue. He believed that we must not only work on our actions, we must also train our thoughts to be virtuous. Aristotle on the other hand focused more on actions and being able to perform the right action in situations to be virtuous. Aristotle also believed that to be virtuous you must find your true calling in life. He believed to reach a life of fulfillment you must apply yourself to the career you are meant to have. For example, a spoon that is used to eat a steak with is disuse of its nature; it is better suited for soups and the like. Same applies for humans, just because you’re bad at doing something doesn’t make you bad, it means you are better suited at something else. This is a part of having a meaningful and virtuous life. Confucius on the other hand has a more strict and old school view in terms of ritual propriety and respecting your elders.
Although both Aristotle and Confucius’ teachings of virtue have different nuances; I believe that it is important to understand that they have a central idea of virtue even though they come from different cultures, times and geographical areas. They believed that achieving a virtuous life is a lifelong endeavor that you must work towards. It is something that you train yourself for with the end goal of embodying virtue. If you look more in depth with the differences in their views of virtue you can see what each culture values most. Aristotle believed highly in respecting others and in performing the right actions when need be; whether it can be hurtful or constructive, he also believed that we must find our true calling in life. Confucius on the other hand had a more old-fashioned approach in which he believed people should be formal, obedient and respectful towards their elders and to forgo creativeness to learn basic knowledge.