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WESTERN SOCRATES AND EASTERN CONFUCIUS



In the western parts of the world, Socrates (469 - 399 BC) is considered the founder of philosophy. In China and East Asia, Confucius (551 - 479 BC) is one of the most important philosophers, along with Taoism and Buddhism.


“To study without thinking is worthless, to think without study is dangerous.” (Confucius)


„The unexamined life is not worth living.“ (Socrates)


Western and Chinese people have fundamentally different beliefs about learning. The Western cognitive rational model is to be distinguished from the East Asian virtue model and these approaches influence how the West and East Asia engage in child-rearing practices and education.


Whereas the Western cognitive model aims to cultivate the mind in order to understand the world, the Chinese model emphasizes the morally perfected self.


In the Socratic tradition the West values the rational individual mind that is trained to interrogate the world and become its master while the Confucian tradition is based on moral self-perfection, learning as a moral virtue and the primacy of action over thought.


At one level both saw themselves on a divine mission to teach values, although while Confucius was a sage and exemplary teacher for all ages’ Socrates rejected the label of teacher. In part, the difference revolves around their opposing attitudes to tradition: where Socrates is critical of traditional values and acts a ‘gadfly’ to get people to examine their lives and moral beliefs Confucius is respectful of tradition and the Dao.


They have very different accounts of the end of ethics: For Socrates, the most important thing is to examine, for “the unexamined life is not worth living”.


By contrast, Confucius offers a unified theory and vision of how to live properly, maintaining that to have a positive knowledge of the Dao is the most important thing in human life’.


Both stress human practice and human sociality.


The most essential comparison could be the question of self-knowledge. Socrates' answer to this would be “knowing oneself”. Confucius' answer to this would be “the relation to the Other”.


Both answers could be important.

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