Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX: THE GREAT PRINCIPLE OF CONFUCIUS - The Ethics of Confucius
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APPENDIX: THE “GREAT PRINCIPLE” OF CONFUCIUS - Confucius, The Ethics of Confucius 
The Ethics of Confucius. The Sayings of the Master and his Disciples upon the Conduct of “The Superior Man”, arranged according to the plan of Confucius with running commentary by Miles Menander Dawson, with a foreword by Wu Ting Fang (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915).
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THE “GREAT PRINCIPLE” OF CONFUCIUS
Dr. Chen Huan Chang in his work “The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School” gives the following version of a passage in the “Li Ki” (bk. vii., sect. i., 2, 3):
“When the Great Principle (of the Great Similarity) prevails, the whole world becomes a republic; they elect men of talents, virtue, and ability; they talk about sincere agreement, and cultivate universal peace. Thus men do not regard as their parents only their own parents, nor treat as their children only their own children. A competent provision is secured for the aged till their death, employment for the middle-aged, and the means of growing up for the young. The widowers, widows, orphans, childless men, and those who are disabled by disease, are all sufficiently maintained. Each man has his rights, and each woman her individuality safeguarded. They produce wealth, disliking that it should be thrown away upon the ground, but not wishing to keep it for their own gratification. Disliking idleness, they labour, but not alone with a view to their own advantage. In this way selfish schemings are repressed and find no way to arise. Robbers, filchers, and rebellious traitors do not exist. Hence the outer doors remain open, and are not shut. This is the state of what I call the Great Similarity.
“Now that the Great Principle has not yet been developed, the world is inherited through family. Each one regards as his parents only his own parents, and treats as his children only his own children. The wealth of each and his labour are only for his self-interest. Great men imagine it is the rule that their estates should descend in their own families. Their object is to make the walls of their cities and suburbs strong and their ditches and moats secure. Rites and justice are regarded as the threads by which they seek to maintain in its correctness the relation between ruler and minister; in its generous regard that between father and son; in its harmony that between elder brother and younger; and in a community of sentiment that between husband and wife; and in accordance with them they regulate consumption, distribute land and dwellings, distinguish the men of military ability and cunning, and achieve their work with a view to their own advantage. Thus it is that selfish schemes and enterprises are constantly taking their rise, and war is inevitably forthcoming. In this course of rites and justice, Yü, T‘ang, Wên, Wu, Ch‘êng Wang, and the Duke of Chou are the best examples of good government. Of these six superior men, every one was attentive to the rites, thus to secure the display of justice, the realization of sincerity, the exhibition of errors, the exemplification of benevolence, and the discussion of courtesy, showing the people all the constant virtues. If any ruler, having power and position, would not follow this course, he should be driven away by the multitude who regard him as a public enemy. This is the state of what I call the Small Tranquillity.”
Dr. Chen identifies “The Small Tranquillity” with “The Advancing Peace Stage,” into which men proceed in the form of nations out of the primitive “Disorderly Stage,” and “The Great Similarity” with “The Extreme Peace Stage,” i. e., with what Tennyson meant in “Locksley Hall”:
Proceeding with this interpretation, Dr. Chen says: “This is the most important statement of all Confucius’ teachings. The stage of Great Similarity or Extreme Peace is the final aim of Confucius; it is the golden age of Confucianism. If we make a comparison between the Great Similarity and the Small Tranquillity, we may get a clear view. Everyone knows that Confucianism has five social relations and five moral constants: ruler and subject, father and son, elder and younger brothers, husband and wife, friend and friend, make up the five social relations; love, justice, rite, wisdom, and sincerity make up the five moral constants. But, according to the statement of Confucius himself, they belong only to the Small Tranquillity. Everyone knows that Confucianism is in favour of monarchical government and of filial piety. But they are good only in the Small Tranquillity. In the Great Similarity, the whole world is the only social organization, and the individual is the independent unit; both socialistic and individualistic characters reach the highest point. There is no national state, so that there is no war, no need of defence, nor of men of military ability and cunning. Men of talents, virtue, and ability are chosen by the people, so that the people themselves are the sovereign, and the relation between ruler and subject does not exist. Man and woman are not bound by the tie of marriage, so that the relations between husband and wife, between father and son, and between brothers do not exist. The only relation that remains is friendship. There is no family, so that there is no inheritance, no private property, no selfish scheme. There is no class, so that the only classification is made either by age or by sex; but whether old, middle-aged, or young, whether man or woman, each satisfies his needs. The Great Principle of the Great Similarity prevails, so that everyone is naturally as good as everyone else and the distinction of the five moral constants is gone. Each has only natural love toward others, regardless of artificial rites and justice. Speaking of the Small Tranquillity, Confucius gives six superior men as examples, but for the Great Similarity, he does not mention any one, because it has never existed. In the Canon of History, Confucius takes up Yao and Shun to represent the stage of Great Similarity as they did not hand down their thrones to their sons, yet he does not mention them here. The principle of the Three Stages is the principle of progress; we must look for the golden age in the future; the Extreme Peace or the Great Similarity is the goal.”
The similarity of this conception to the social scheme of Socrates, as set forth in Plato’s “Republic,” is remarkable, as also its similarity to the views of advanced socialists nowadays. It is indeed significant and weighty if these two greatest intellects of the ancients and perhaps of all mankind saw this ultimate goal alike. But the interpretation may in some regards be deemed doubtful; and certainly others have interpreted it otherwise. Thus Legge translates the passage, using the past tense throughout, as follows:
“When the Grand Course was pursued, a public and common spirit ruled all under the sky; they chose men of talents, virtue, and ability; their words were sincere, and what they cultivated was harmony. Thus men did not love their parents only, nor treat as children only their own sons. A competent provision was secured for the aged till their death, employment for the able-bodied, and the means of growing up to the young. They showed kindness and compassion to widows, orphans, childless men, and those who were disabled by disease, so that they were all sufficiently maintained. Males had their proper work, and females had their homes. (They accumulated) articles (of value) disliking that they should be thrown away upon the ground, but not wishing to keep them for their own gratification. (They laboured) with their strength, disliking that it should not be exerted, but not exerting it (only) with a view to their own advantage. In this way (selfish) schemings were repressed and found no development. Robbers, filchers, and rebellious traitors did not show themselves, and hence the outer doors remained open, and were not shut. This was (the period of) what we call the Grand Union.
“Now that the Grand Course has fallen into disuse and obscurity, the kingdom is a family inheritance. Everyone loves (above all others) his own parents and cherishes (as) children (only) his own sons. People accumulate goods and exert their strength for their own advantage. Great men imagine it is the rule that their estates should descend in their own families. Their object is to make the walls of their cities and suburbs strong and their ditches and moats secure. The rules of propriety and of what is right are regarded as the threads by which they seek to maintain in its correctness the relation between ruler and minister; in its generous regard that between father and son; in its harmony that between elder brother and younger; and in a community of sentiment that between husband and wife; and in accordance with them they frame buildings and measures; lay out the fields and hamlets (for the dwellings of the husbandmen); adjudge the superiority to men of valour and knowledge; and regulate their achievements with a view to their own advantage. Thus it is that (selfish) schemes and enterprises are constantly taking their rise, and recourse is had to arms; and thus it was (also) that Yu, Thang, Wan, and Wu, King Khâng, and the Duke of Kâu obtained their distinction. Of these six great men everyone was very attentive to the rules of propriety, thus to secure the display of righteousness, the realization of sincerity, the exhibition of errors, the exemplification of benevolence, and the discussion of courtesy, showing the people all the normal virtues. Any rulers who did not follow this course were driven away by those who possessed power and position, and all regarded them as pests. This is the period of what we call Small Tranquillity.”
But whether past or future is intended, undoubtedly it is the “golden age,” or ideal state, which is meant. The open question as to whether the Grand Course is past or yet to come, is of course due to the ideographic form of the language; owing to his standing as a Confucian scholar, Dr. Chen is certainly entitled to have his interpretation preferred, if all else is equal.
The statement concerning safeguarding the individuality of women would perhaps scarcely seem to warrant the notion that the idea of the family, upon which Confucius built his entire superstructure of personal and governmental relations, should be abandoned; Legge translated this, it should be noted, “Males had their proper work, and females had their homes.”