Sunday, December 31, 2006
First Aired: 
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What Is It

Confucius laid down a pattern of thinking followed by more people for more generations than any other human being on the face of the earth. No matter what religion, no matter what form of government, the Chinese (and most other East Asian civilizations) and their way of thinking can in some way be shown to have Confucian elements about them. John and Ken discuss the ancient wisdom of Confucius with Paul Kjellberg from Whittier College.

Listening Notes

Who was Confucius? He was a sixth century resident of China who wandered around teaching about virtue. He thought that if each level of a government is well ordered, each other level will be well ordered. Ken introduces the guest, Paul Kjellberg, professor at Whittier College. John asks if there is a consistent philosophical vision behind the sayings. Kjellberg says there is and there are different versions as interpreted by his followers. Confucius lived at a time of war, so his philosophy emphasized unity and harmony. Kjellberg explains how this meshes with the Confucian emphasis on study. 

Kjellberg explains what ritual was and why it was important for Confucius. Rituals had to be performed sincerely. The surface form didn't matter as much. Ken asks how Confucian ethics and Western ethics are similar. Ritual was important for building community. Are Taoism and Confucianism related or opposing strands of thought? Kjellberg thinks not, although it is difficult. Kjellberg points out the biggest misunderstanding of Confucius's philosophy, equating an interest in the past with worshipping the past. This has had negative effects on women in China. 

Chinese culture is famous for innovation, such as movable type and gunpowder. Is there anything in Confucianism that supports innovative thinking? Kjellberg says that there were periods in the Confucian tradition that supported it. He also says that there is an emphasis on community building innovation. Ken asks if one could base a women's rights or civil rights movement on Confucian ideal. Kjellberg thinks you can. John and Ken close by discussing the aspects of Confucianism that they think would be beneficial for Western culture. 

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:32): Amy Standen interviews Chinese-Americans about what Confucian teachings mean to them. 
  • Philosophy Talk Goes to the Movies (Seek to 45:50): John and Ken discuss the philosophical aspects of Million Dollar Baby.



Ken Taylor  
Welcome to Philosophy Talk the program that questions everything...

John Perry  
...except your intelligence. I'm John Perry.