PHILOSOPHY OF ANCIENT EAST (for students)

Goetia Niflheim
7 min readSep 26, 2020

I. Features of the emergence and development of the philosophy of ancient China

The history of philosophical thought of Ancient China dates back to the beginning of the 1st millennium BC., and its heyday falls on the VI century BC. During this period, the main ancient Chinese teachings arose: Confucianism, Taoism, Legism, Moism, etc. The formation of philosophical ideas in China took place in difficult social conditions: there were internecine wars, the absorption of land by foreign invaders, peasant uprisings, etc.

The background of the formation of the philosophy of ancient China

  1. Social hierarchy, state control over complicated social, economic, political and other ties;
  2. The important role of the kinship community — patronymia, based on the cult of ancestors;
  3. Close relationship with the religious and mythological understanding of the world, where the highest principle was Heaven, and the Chinese emperor was considered his messenger.

Features of ancient Chinese philosophy

  1. Holism (from ancient Greek “Ὅλος” — whole, integral) is a position in which the world and each individual are considered as a “single whole”, more important than its constituent parts.
  2. Human involvement in the system of ethical standards.
  3. Pragmatism, appeal to the practice of today and the earth,
    not otherworldly life.
  4. The lack of a clear certainty of the concepts of categorical apparatus,
    ambiguity of terms, emphasis on the transfer of already created, and not on the creation of a new one.
  5. The direct subordination of philosophy to political practice.

II. The problem of man and the state in the philosophy of Confucianism, Legism, Moism

The main problem of the ancient Chinese teachings was not the problems of knowing the material world, as it was in Ancient Greece, but the practice of the interaction of man and the whole (state). The following teachings can be distinguished, which give an idea of how they interact:

II.I. Confucianism (VI century BC).

The founder of Kunzi (Confucius).

The main book: “Lun Yu” (Conversations and Judgments).

The main task of Confucianism: to find a compromise between the extreme
despotism and democracy, to teach people to live together, to restore dialogue between society and the state. Power must be with a “human face”, i.e. the emperor should educate his subjects, and not oppress and suppress.

The principles on which Confucianism is based

  1. The rules of Li — decency, etiquette, ceremony, ritual, for example, filial piety, veneration of antiquity as a sacred model. Lee is not a law, it is education by traditions, which creates a self-disciplined society where everyone knows his place: “The sovereign must be a sovereign, a dignitary — a dignitary, a father — a father, a son — a son”. Li’s rules curb the dark beginning of the soul, harmonize a person.
  2. Through tradition and ritual, a person gains the Ren— humanity, philanthropy, the totality of all kinds of the right relationship of a person to another person and society. Ren included restraint, modesty, kindness, impartiality, a sense of justice, but most importantly — love for people. A humane person should be deprived of selfish thoughts and give all his strength for the benefit of others. Chinese humanity is not identical to Western European humanism, since humanism presupposes recognition of the freedom and self-worth of a person, and in ancient China, man is embedded in a rigid clan-clan hierarchy in which there is no place for freedom and individuality. Confucius believed that humanity was originally characteristic of humanity, and if brought up, it would give good shoots.
  3. The principle of reciprocity is the “golden rule of morality” characteristic of many cultures. Its essence: do not do to others what you do not want for yourself. This principle should also harmonize relationships in society.
  4. The principle of the “golden mean”: observe in all measure, mitigate contradictions, do not allow either excessiveness or lag.
  5. The principle of change (correction) of names: the requirement of conformity of the name to the signified; the actual behavior and social status of a person by his ethical and ritual status (a sovereign must be a sovereign, a dignitary — a dignitary, a father — a father, a son — a son, a commoner — a commoner, a citizen — a citizen). Only
    in this way everything could be put in order and chaos avoided, while preserving traditions as the main value of Ancient China. The ideal of man for Confucianism is a “noble husband”, who honors traditions, rituals, music, respects elders, is sincere and truthful in words and deeds, strives for knowledge, knows his place in the social hierarchy.

II.II. Legism (IV century BC) is a school of lawyers who opposed Confucianism (the theory of a despotic state).

Shang Yang, Han Fei and others believed:

  1. People are evil by nature.
  2. Politics is not compatible with morality.
  3. The foundation of the state should be laws, to which all but the ruler must obey. “The wise make laws, and the foolish is limited to them”.
  4. It is necessary to manage society with the help of rewards and especially punishment, total mutual surveillance of subjects one after another.
  5. It is necessary to strengthen the army and prevent the spread of knowledge, music and etiquette.

Society was completely absorbed by the state, had no, even moral autonomy. Subsequently, this model of political governance was used by the great dictators Mao, Lenin, Stalin, etc.

II.III. Moism (V century BC).

The founder of Mo Tzu.

The main ideas: 1) people are equal and kind by nature; 2) the contractual origin of the state and management; 3) in antiquity there was no control and punishment, “everyone had their own understanding of justice”, enmity reigned between people until people chose the most virtuous and wise person; 4) the basis of government should be love, not ritual or law; 5)it is necessary to take into account the interests of the common people in the process of government.

III. Man and the cosmos in the philosophy of Taoism

Taoism (VI century BC).

The founder of Lao Tzu.

Legend tells that Lao Tzu was born from himself, from all this huge the plural world itself 72 times appeared to the world. According to legend, Lao Tzu met with Confucius, spoke for a long time with him but a philosophical system Confucianism is not accepted.
Disappointed in the possibility of implementing his teachings in China, Lao Tzu mounted a buffalo and went off somewhere to the west. No one else saw him. When he left China, the chief of the border outpost asked him to write down his thoughts. Thus, the book “five thousand words” appeared, called “Tao Te Ching” — “The Book of the Way and Virtue”, which became the main canon of Taoism.
The main task of Taoism: to overcome Confucian ritualized etiquette and gain inner freedom.

The main ideas: 1) freedom and the source of infinity — nature, a living changing Cosmos, in another Tao — the great path of one life, the invisible universal natural law of nature, society and man; 2) Tao is not expressible, because it is always in change and movement; 3) Tao — unity, harmony of two opposite energies: Yin (female, passive, dark) and Yang (male, active, bright); 4) the Great Tao begets everything through de — “quality”, “talent”, “dignity”, “wealth”, “moral strength”. Dae is a specific quality of Tao, a means of detecting it, materialization of Tao; 5) the task of the sage is to acquire Tao, that is, dissolve, merge with nature, abandon your own individuality, from your Self; 6) the main way to gain freedom is non-action, “success without effort” — spontaneous fusion with the natural course of things, in which there is no need for special activity, effort of will.

The Taoist breakthrough to freedom is the rejection of the Self, of personality and individuality, which in the West is identical to the loss of the source of freedom.

IV. Features of ancient Indian philosophy

In the second format of the II millennium BC Aryan tribes came to the valley of the Indus and Ganges, founded there and brought their spiritual culture, recorded in the Vedas (sacred texts, traditions). The Vedas build most of the philosophical heritage of India.

The cultural background of the philosophy of ancient India

  1. The doctrine of karma is the inexorable law of cause and effect. According to the law of karma, special sinners can in the next life become representatives of the lower caste, animal and even stone.
  2. The doctrine of samsara — the cycle of life and reincarnation, in accordance with which the person’s future is determined by the deeds and actions of a past life.
  3. The caste social system: in India there are castes (clergy, warriors, farmers, commoners). The transition from one caste to another is impossible.
  4. The doctrine of Moksha — liberation from the world passions, moral perfection.
  5. The Doctrine of Brahman Identity (universal, objective, impersonal world soul, the beginning of the whole world) and atman (individual, subjective soul).

Old Indian Schools of Philosophy

  1. Orthodox (recognize authority Vedas and Upanishads): Hinduism schools, including 6 systems (Vedanta, Mimansa, Sankhya, Yoga, Vaisesika, Nyaya). Hinduism recognizes many gods (Brahma, Vishnu, Rama, Krishna, Shiva, etc.), and also seeks ways of redemption and liberation from the bonds of samsara and karma.
  2. Unorthodox (they do not recognize the authority of the Vedas and the Upanishads): Charvaka-Lokayata (school of materialism), Jainism, Buddhism.

Buddhism (6th century BC).

The founder of Siddhartha Gautama.

The main ideas or recognition of the “four noble truths”: 1) the essence of life is suffering; 2) the cause of suffering is desire and affection; 3) getting rid of suffering lies through the rejection of attachments and desires; 4) liberation is possible through the “octal path” leading to enlightenment and through it to Nirvana.

The eightfold path includes controlling your body, breathing, right thoughts, deeds up to controlling your consciousness.

The purpose of Buddhist = Nirvana (in translation means extinction, attenuation), i.e. the extinction of any kind of desires, feelings, affections. This means freedom from peace, suffering, affection). Buddhism has two directions: Hinayana and Mahayana. Hinayana for monks, hermits who forever leave the world and devote themselves to the achievements of Nirvana. This means that Buddhist ethics is of particular importance — the desire to ensure that it is not harmful to any living thing.

Buddhism, being a world religion, nevertheless differs from other religions in that it does not have God as the supreme creator, creator of the world. In Buddhism, the attainment of Nirvana as the liberation of man from his suffering self is considered divine. Freedom in Buddhism is different from Western European freedom as activity, position (freedom “for”).

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