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It is a noteworthy beauty of the Aristotelian scheme, that a high place among the virtues is assigned to meekness (Tpaútns). Here the impassiveness of stoicism is rejected, the virtue being taken as that quality which leads a man to feel anger at proper occasions and times, - distinguished on the one hand from irascibility, on the other from mean-spiritedness and weakness.
We make no attempt to palliate the short-comings of this master spirit. We find this benumbing sentence : “ It is thought that to the dead there is nothing beyond, either good or bad.”* The whole system is cold as ice and rigid as marble. Some would say, that an ethical system which leaves out the religious obligations is headless. Aristotle teaches that each virtue is a mean state between two vices,
- on the one hand of defect, on the other of excess. Courage, for instance, is a mean between foolhardiness and cowardice. Liberality is the mean between lavishness and niggardliness. It has been said,t that the whole scheme is vitiated through this position, inasmuch as the two vices are assumed to be positives, whereas virtue is the only positive according to the correct view, its opposite having no other than a negative existence. This criticism appears to us rather overstrained; but, admitting that and every other drawback, if this sketch has made the main features of the system at all clear, in many respects it must be confessed to be most excellent. It is founded on the inherent nobleness of human nature. The soul of man has a capacity for virtuous attainment, and is endowed with a clear-seeing faculty whose vision is high in the heavens, and cognizant of the true and right. The work of man is to form a character out of virtuous habits, and the end for which he is to strive is to maintain his soul, ever acting
according to the best and most perfect virtue.” This is lofty teaching, and warrants a late panegyric, where a writer, after holding up the Nicomachean Ethics in most favorable contrast with Paley, calls it “an imperishable memorial of Aristotle's genius, - a noble system of morals based purely on a contemplation of the nature and constitution of man." I
* Eth. Nicom. III. 6.
† Intuit. Morals, Pt. II., Introd. | National Review, January, 1860, p. 59.
Among these ancient sages of Europe, no defect, perhaps, is more striking, than a certain absence of heart and want of tenderness. This deficiency appears more strikingly in the case of some than in that of others. In Plato and the Platonists, the fancy imparts a fulness and coloring to the speculation, in which the absence of the heart's warmth and tenderness is less apparent than in writers like Aristotle, where the thought stands boldly forth, its clear, sharp outline unrelieved by any embellishment of rhetoric, unveiled by any drapery of mysticism. Generally even with the best, we have more reason to admire the acute intellect, the fine moral discrimination, sharp but cold, the strong sense of duty, than such qualities as glowing love and aspiration. Dr. Priestley * notices this defect particularly in the case of Aristotle, and, quoting at the conclusion of his consideration of that sage's philosophy some of the finest psalms, puts side by side this classic, icily regular edifice of the Hellenic mind, and the still throbbing and living memorials of Hebrew devotion. In Priestley's day, but little was known concerning any Oriental literature, except that of the Jews. The acquisitions of the last half-century, however, enable us, referring to these additional stores, to see that this earnestness and spiritual depth are in a degree a general characteristic of the East; and though in Israel the soul in its yearning may have been more eager and far-reaching, yet in all Oriental writing there is a glow and aspiration which we miss in the more coolly precise literature of the West.
In this paper we are dealing with Ethics. Ethics is a science, and in scientific matters we do not look for feeling and warmth. The contrast between the East and West is less apparent in this connection than it would be if the piety of these Gentile races, instead of their moral philosophy, were the subject of examination; yet even here we cannot fail to notice it. We have space to examine but one Oriental system of ethics; it shall be that of Confucius, a scheme perhaps more nearly approaching the tone of Occidental speculation than any other system of the East. Yet even here the strength of the Oriental heart makes itself felt in a certain humane
* Doctrines of Heathen Philosophy compared with those of Revelation, p. 183.
gentleness, imparting warmth to every line, - a tropic flower of tenderness peculiar to Asiatic soil.
Of the five sacred volumes which embody the doctrine of Confucius, four are arrangements of pre-existing documents, which he drew up and sanctioned. The fifth volume, called “ Soe Chow,” comprises the books in which the disciples of Confucius after his death embodied the moral system, the apothegms and other memorabilia of the master. From this book, the “ Soe Chow,” we shall take such illustrations as we require. We shall see how in China, six hundred years before our era, a thinker had enunciated the essential features of the ethical scheme we have been tracing in Rome and Greece, - the system which even to-day cannot be superseded, but only improved upon and enlarged.
First, there is a moral law. “ The principle which directs us in conforming our actions to the mandate of Heaven is called the rule of moral conduct, or the right way.' Again, “ The sage's rule of moral conduct has its element in the hearts of all men, whence it raises itself in its highest manifestation to light heaven and earth with its rays." | To discern this rule of moral conduct, man is said to possess in himself a “luminous principle of reason, which we have received from Heaven to renew men and cause them to see their proper aim to be perfection, or the sovereign good.” † This “luminous principle of reason” we find frequently alluded to, a quality in the nature of man, inherent and holy, by which he discerns the eternal law of duty,-a faculty closely resembling or identical with the tÒ ÉTELOTNuovikóv of Aristotle, – the “ intuition ” or “inner light” of modern philosophy. That the law thus apprehended can be obeyed, the Chinese sage does not appear to have doubted. There is a remarkable absence in all that he has left of everything like abstruse speculation, and from this habit he did not depart to undertake any metaphysical demonstration of the freedom of the will.
Why should the moral law be obeyed ? Virtue is to be pursued for her own sake, and for no ulterior profit or reward.
† Ibid. XII. 4.
Tchoung Young, I. 1.
Placing before everything the duty of doing what one ought to do in order to acquire virtue, and putting as only of secondary importance the profit one obtains, is not that to accumulate virtues ?” *
Descending now to the particular departments of duty, with regard to the religious obligations we observe a silence almost as unbroken as we noticed in the case of Aristotle. We do find mention, indeed, of Heaven as a Power, and an expression equivalent to “ Most High ” occurs in the Confucian literature; † but this power is rarely mentioned, and the worship of it is seldom, if ever indeed, clearly inculcated. Such prayers as are offered are generally made to the spirits of ancestors and to genii. “ The philosopher being very sick, Tseu Lou begged him to let his disciples address their prayers in his behalf to the spirits and genii. The philosopher said, “Is that becoming ?' Tseu Lou answered, “It is becoming.' The philosopher said, “The prayer of Confucius is continual.' ” It is impossible to believe that the nature of Confucius, amiable to an extraordinary degree, should not also have been devout. Prayer and thanksgiving poured from his heart, but as to the object to which these outpourings were directed, he speculated but little. The singular absence in the Confucian discussions of all remark not bearing directly upon the most practical and sublunary matters, was noticed indeed by the disciples of the sage. “Tseu Koung said, “ Our master may often be heard to speak of the qualities necessary to make a man illustrious, but he is rarely heard to discourse upon the nature of man or the celestial reason.'” §
As it regards social duty, however, there is no neglect, and the critic of this part of his system can do little but praise. It is here we notice that tenderness which, as we have said, belongs to Confucianism, the gift to this system of that more active soul and heart which imparts to Oriental speculation in general such depth and warmth. Mark the emphasis with which, again and again, the Golden Rule is pronounced. The following is a specimen. “ Tseu Koung put a question in these terms : “Is there a motto in the language which one
* Lun Yu, XII. 21. | Lun Yu, VII. 34.
† Note to Ta Hio, X.
Ibid. V. 12.
can carry with him as the sole rule of practice to the day of his death ?' The philosopher said, “There is the motto, We must not do to others as we do not want them to do to us. But the most impressive feature of Confucianism is the prominence given to the principle of love to men. The Chinese term is rendered, in the French translation of Pauthier, l'humanité. “ Fantchi asked what the virtue of humanity was. The philosopher answered, “ To love men.'” † This principle of love is not only the first, but the sum, of all excellences. It is insisted on until the repetition becomes wearisome. In the “ Lun Yu,” which describes Confucius very much as the “ Memorabilia ” of Xenophon describe Socrates, there is hardly a page which does not contain an exhortation to cultivate this sentiment. The love must extend to all men. “ The superior man looks upon all men in the universe as his brothers.” Confucius regards man as inseparable from the society of his fellows, and perhaps gives too great relative prominence to the department of social duty. The reader tires of the monotony, as over and over again, for hundreds of times, the changes are rung on this same note of love to men; but it imparts a genial, benevolent fervor to the scheme, contrasting the frostwork, delicate and beautiful, indeed, but so frigid, into which Hellenic and Roman speculation were congealed.
As to personal duty, though this department is somewhat unduly postponed to social obligation, it is by no means overlooked. “ The perfecting of one's self is the law of man.” § That purity of the heart promotes the clearness of the spiritual perceptions was seen so clearly, that acuteness of the moral vision is given as the proper test of excellence. “There is a certain rule for recognizing the state of perfection. He who does not know how to distinguish good from evil, the true from the false, who knows not how to find in man the law of Heaven, has not yet arrived at perfection." || In the same spirit with these passages is the following: “From the man of most elevated dignity to the most humble and obscure, there is an equal duty for all; the perfecting of ourselves is the funda
Ibid. XII. 5.
* Lun Yu, XV. 23.
Tchoung Young, XX. 17.
† Ibid. XII. 22.