Philosophy of Ethics

~ A butterfly and wisteria flowers, by Xü Xi 

1. No man misses the mark by his own choice.

No man misses the mark by his own choice. To do what is right, one must first understand in depth what is right from what is wrong. After one distinguishes right from wrong; good from evil, the superior man strives to do the former and avoid the latter. 

There are many things that prevent goodness, among them, the obscurity of reality and the brevity of life, but none can do more harm than the lack of knowledge. For this reason, Socrates concludes that, “Knowledge is virtue.” He who is without knowledge can never do what is right for the right reasons. Therefore, set your heart on learning and the gathering knowledge from an early age.

2. Be mindful of mortality.

Do not be afraid of death but be mindful that you are mortal. When you are mindful of the short span of human life, you will do your duty to yourself, your family, and your community. He who is mindful of mortality will improve in character and grow in virtue. 

Know that as each day passes, the time to meet your maker draws closer. When you acknowledge this, you will understand the significance of your every deed and weight of your every word. Everything that you have said or done have the potential to shape your destiny. Even if something does not appear significant in your perspective, it may be very significant in the perspective of others. At times, what brings you happiness brings to others harm.


3. The three pillars of virtue.

Let there be three guiding principles in your actions. These principles are knowledge, duty, and reason. Before you embark on any endeavour, ask yourself these questions, ‘Do I possess the knowledge to carry out this task? Am I doing my duty? Is what I am doing done for the right reasons?’ If you cannot answer these questions, suspend judgment and do nothing until you can find the right answers within your heart.


4. Do not be to quick to judge what is good and what is evil.

Most of the time, we are not as good or as evil as we think we are. Man is the measure of all things. Marcus Aurelius said, “Often he who omits an act does injustice, not only he who commits an act.” All men are guilty of the good he did not do. Do not be too quick to judge others.


5. Distinguish between the perfect and the possible.

Distinguish between the perfect and the possible. What we want the world to be is not the state that the world is currently in. 

Confucius said, “If he cannot rectify himself, what has he to do with rectifying others?” To change the world, you must first change yourself.

The desire to change must arise from within yourself and not from without. You must first have the conviction that such change is possible. Those who have decided that they cannot change have already made any change impossible. Choose and stick by the choices you make. Above all, never rely on others to make decisions you should make yourself.


6. Look within yourself.

The Ancient Greeks admonish us to ‘Know thyself.’ Look into a mirror and tell yourself in total honesty what you see. Let your mind, heart, and body be still; only the calm and clear surface of a lake can show you your true reflection. Close your eyes and make a wish; often your wish will reveal to you more of yourself than you like.

Always remember to self-reflect on your deeds and words. Confucius said, “At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning; at thirty I stood firm; at forty, I had no doubts; at fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven; at sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of the truth; at seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.”


7. You do not belong to yourself.

Remember that you do not only belong to yourself. Everything and everyone is part of the Universe and the Great Pattern. Nothing in the world belongs only to itself. Everything is connected with something else and shares these connections with other things. Nothing in this world is truly free.

As a person, Confucians talk of the five relations: between parent and child; brother and brother; husband and wife; friend and friend; and ruler and subject. Be mindful that your actions do not cause harm to those that are connected to you. Know, that with life, it is inevitable that you spin a web that connects you with others and these connections will define you.


8. The golden mean and the golden rule.

The Doctrine of the Mean states, “the superior man stands erect in the middle, without inclining to either side.” Between cowardice and rashness find courage. Between stinginess and extravagance find prudence. Between idleness and industry find ambition. Between humility and pride find modesty. Between conflict and flattery find friendship. Between indecisiveness and impulsiveness find self-control. 

Confucius said, “Not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself; what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” This is the golden rule of ethics.


9. Etiquette and manners. 

Just at the universe is regulated by the Great Pattern; so must humanity be regulated by a code of conduct. Just as we should live in harmony with the order of nature; so must an individual live in harmony with society. For this reason, etiquette, manners, protocols, and decorum were created.

One should be filial at home and respectful to his elders abroad. One should be polite and treat others with courtesy and respect. Follow the traditions and etiquettes of the current society and do not attempt to change them before their time. Act according to the circumstances and always be mindful of your surroundings.

Confucius said, “Have no friends not equal to yourself.” Choose and cultivate good company. The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions. Find friends that are superior to yourself and you will grow in character, virtue, and wisdom.

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