The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle

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Virtues and ethics are important in any society. People with virtues are thought to be good members of the society. The virtue necessitates an individuals character and the ethics that determine what is considered as ethical. The term virtue is a transliteration of a Latin word virtus that means manhood (Yu, 1998).The word virtue has also been termed to refer to knowledge by the majority of the Greek philosophers. It is believed that self-examination and evaluation lead to self-knowledge that results in a good life. Both Aristotle and Confucius contributed greatly in philosophy. They both tackled issues of the same nature such as virtue and conduct. However, their opinions and views on humanity and virtue differed. Their differences were as a result of their backgrounds, and times in which their ideas were documented. Aristotle ideas were as a result of the influence of the ancient Greek culture while Confucius ideas were influenced by ancient Chinese culture (Sayre, 2014). Although Aristotle and Confucius had different opinions on virtues and ethics, their beliefs continue to influence the society even to date.

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There is a fundamental difference in the concepts of these two philosophers. The difference entails how they address issues pertaining ethics and the conduct of an individual. The first difference is how they each view the relationship between virtue and the highest good. Confucius refers to highest good as morals. He believes that there is no content in good and pure activity. An individual had to value the young, comfort the old and have faith in friends. It was imperative for individuals to work to help others and create a better community (Sim, 2007). He referred to the concept as junzi. A person's deeds were focused on what he did for others. According to Aristotle, the highest good is not a virtue, but a eudaimonia, which refers to the state of having a good soul or happiness. He believes that at this state, human beings accomplish divine intelligence. The full happiness can be achieved through identifying a persons purpose in life and striving to achieve the purpose. It also involves attaining the highest potential of a human being which can be attained through a society.

The morals virtues are defined differently by the two thinkers. Aristotle guide to personal mean is phronisis while for Confucian is dao (Sayre, 2014). Aristotles ideas on morals do not rely on the human interactions. He also argued that every virtue such as friendship, liberty, and self-respect was a mean between two vices. The mean is another area that Aristotle and Confucian have different beliefs. Aristotle states that mean is a moral virtue in itself. It is a state in between character and virtuous actions. He also believed that a person needs to possess some qualities in order to be referred to as a good person. His beliefs on a good person were on a persons character rather than his personality. Confucius defines the mean as a heavenly nature. Confucius believes that heaven itself is a virtue since it is good (Yu, 2013). He states that for an individual to be virtuous, he has to be one with the heaven and earth. The individual has to establish a connection with heaven to cultivate the human virtues. The moral ideas developed by Aristotle offer a guidance to an ideal life where an individual is self-sufficient. In contrast, Confucius ideas guide individuals on living a socially accepted and practical lifestyle.

Despite their differences, the two thinkers agreed on various issues. Aristotle and Confucius agreed that virtue alone is not enough for complete happiness. Instead, happiness is derived from a process of self-examination. They also believed that ritualization, habituation, and doing as virtuous people do is necessary for a good life. Mahood (1974) explains that they also agreed on the concept of mean. The golden mean was used to strike a balance between two characters. Both philosophers agree that for a life to be fulfilling, a balance has to be struck. For instance, Confucius states that courage, wisdom and humanity have to be balanced to achieve social virtues. They also believed that courage, wisdom, justice, and love enhance the moral order. Aristotles ideas on morals are based on the soul which forms the basis of analyzing a persons morals. He believed that a persons morals could be developed through constantly repeating the good habits.

The concepts from Aristotle and Confucius are very vital and practical in the modern society. The ideas on morals can be effective in helping individuals understand how to treat and behave towards each other. The knowledge of phronsis explains the reason behind being virtuous. It gives the needed motivation for people in the society to do good and not just follow some peoples character. Through the knowledge of phronsis, individuals can also better understand the concept of good life. It explains the idea of the proper means to an end. The teachings of Confucius that emphasize that individuals be responsible for their actions can ensure that every employee in a workplace does their work effectively and respect the diversity at the workplace. The same concept also ensures that individuals do their roles as expected.


Mahood, G. H. (1974). Human Nature and the Virtues in Confucius and Aristotle. Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 1(34), 295-312.

Sayre, Henry M. (2014). The Humanities: Culture, Continuity and Change, Books a La Carte Edition. Pearson College Div.

Sim, M. (2007). Remastering morals with Aristotle and Confucius (p. xiii223). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yu, J. (2013). The ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of virtue (Vol. 7). Routledge.

Yu, J. (1998). Virtue: Confucius and Aristotle. Philosophy East and West, 323-347.

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