I am continuing in January a series of blogs on human rights that I began in December: “Towards Human Rights.” The purpose of this blog series is to make the case for the implementation and acceptance of human rights as a global values system. It is based on my Human Rights: Towards a Universal Values System?
“…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” …Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
Towards Human Rights as a Global Values System, part 14
By Dr. Denise R. Ames
A History and Philosophy of Human Rights,
Confucianism, Part 1
Based on the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE), Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system that focuses on human morality and wrong action. Confucius lived during the Chou dynasty in China, an era known for its moral slackness. His parents died when he was a child, leaving him alone in the world. Later in life, he wandered through China, giving advice to the rulers. A small band of dedicated students followed him during this time. He spent the last years of his life teaching and died around the age of 72.
During Confucius’ lifetime, China was in a constant state of upheaval and wars. Confucius believed that at this time China needed a strict set of rules and standards to guide people in proper behavior. He stated that the ideal person needed to exhibit good moral character, and respect his leader, ancestors and father. He also thought the ideal person needed to think for himself in order to discover what was right and wrong.
Confucius directed his teachings to males; females were not important to him. He encouraged the leaders of China to live their lives in a good, moral manner, and to set a good example as role models for their people. He believed the country would run much more smoothly if it followed his teachings.
Confucius, like Socrates, did not write down his teachings, but the second generation of Confucius followers collected his teachings into the Analects, the most honored of his texts. His writings dealt primarily with individual morality and ethics, and the proper use of political power by the rulers. It is a complex system of moral, social, political, philosophical, and somewhat religious thought that has influenced the culture and history of East Asia. The Confucian version of the Ethic of Reciprocity, or the Golden Rule was: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”
Confucius never stated whether man was born good or evil, noting that “by nature men are similar; by practice men are wide apart.” Therefore, they must study and practice the right values: Li, respectability and good manners; Hsiao, love within the family, love of parents and parental love for their children; Yi, righteousness; Xin, honesty and trust; Jen, compassion, humaneness (the highest Confucian value); and Chung, loyalty to the state.
About the Author:
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.
For more information about the topic of human rights see Dr. Ames’ book Human Rights:Towards a Global Values System, $17.95, 225 pgs. Also available on Amazon.