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Man Is a Social Being

Robert Oxnam :: Confucius builds his theory of society and government on the assumption that man is a social being always interacting with other human beings. Moral obligations to other people, and the imperative of public service, follow from this assumption.

Wm. Theodore de Bary :: Confucius had been traveling with his friends and his students, and visiting one state after another and trying to persuade one ruler after another, and being unsuccessful at it. And at one point, they lost their way in their travels, and one of Confucius' disciples went to ask directions from somebody who was cultivating in a nearby field.

And when this farmer learned who the disciple was and who Confucius was, he said, "Instead of following someone who flees from this man and that, you should flee from this whole generation of men." Now, that sets up the peasant, the farmer as somebody who's cultivating his own garden and isn't worrying about the rest of mankind.

The disciple goes back to Confucius and reports this. And Confucius says, "One cannot herd with the beasts or flock with the birds. If I am not to be a man among men," or literally, to go in the company of other men, "then what am I to be? If the Way prevailed in the world, I wouldn't be trying to change things."

He is not content with what he finds. His conscience impels him to try to rectify what is wrong in the world. And it is a sense of the moral conscience that he's got to be in the company of other men, whatever he is going to make of himself. It has to be in relation to human society.

Irene Bloom :: In the Confucian tradition, human relatedness is the primary given. Human beings exist in a social context. They learn from one another, they interact with one another.

Wm. Theodore de Bary :: And so practically speaking, the way that one comes to understand what it means to be human, or to be humane, is through one's interactions with other people, and through the allied virtue of reciprocity or empathy, so that you understand yourself by what you understand of others, and you understand others and treat them by what you understand of yourself.