When Socrates Meets Confucius
—What Kind of Philosophy Should We Adopt in the 21st Century?
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!
Everybody knows Socrates and Confucius. From my perspective, what really matters now about this topic is how we are going to deal with the clash between the East and the West. What kind of philosophy should we adopt to deal with the issues that prevail in the 21st century?
The first key word is social order. Although both philosophers emphasize the importance of virtues in a harmonious society, the social structures they propose are totally different. Confucius believes in strict hierarchy, while Socrates dedicated to promoting equality among citizens. What I want to address here is that, nowadays, when people start to argue which one of them is better, too often they completely overlook the reality, which is dynamic and complicated. When Confucius way can guarantee the effectiveness and stability while Socrates’ way can further the cause of fairness, why trying to deny any of them? The point is that it depends, on the dynamic and complicated reality. We have to consider the feasibility and its benefits. It depends on a variety of elements like population, citizen quality, economy, history, ideology etc. They all vary greatly from place to place. Therefore, the social order which can suit better, be more feasible, and most importantly, bring more actual benefits to the people is the right social order.
The second key word is modesty. Socrates’ most important contribution to Western thought is his dialectic method of inquiry, while in the Analects of Confucius, we can see that he makes general statements without much reasoning. So why doesn’t Confucius tell others his logic and reasons when he definitely has them? It is because he is being modest, which is part of the wisdom of mediocrity. Modest or mediocrity is good, but we shouldn’t interpret it in a wrong way, especially in the 21st century when we need leaders who can stand up and speak for the people. We need to persuade others with good reasons. We need to support our own arguments with the powerful weapon of logic. Humble is good, but we shouldn’t let it be an excuse of being silent. Mediocrity does give us a chance to survive in some certain conditions, which I agree, but we shouldn’t let it be an excuse of fear and cowardice.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are just two aspects of the big question raised in the very beginning. When Socrates meets Confucius, the discussion of the Western and the Eastern culture never ends. All in all, we’ll see it in the future. Thank you!