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The Importance Of Relationships

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2295 words Published: 18th May 2017

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To better understand the argument of friendships and their potential cause of instability in the hierarchical structure of Confucian thought put forth by Norman Kutcher (2000), I examined three sources discussed in this paper. In his article “The Confucian Concept of Man: The Original Formulation”, Scott Morton (1971) presents the general idea of Confucian thought and explains the ideas and concept of man. To go into further detail, Donald Blakeley’s (2008) “Hearts in Agreement: Zhuangzi on Dao Adept Friendship” explores friendship in both philosophies and defines friendship according to the Analects giving readers a better understanding of friendship and its role in society. Finally, Arthur W. Hummel’s (1960) article titled “The Art of Social Relations in China” emphasizes the importance of relationships in China and society, the role of relationships in one’s maturity, emphasizing the importance of friendship on one’s road to success once he leaves the family nest. These articles provide additional insight and understanding the function of friendships in a man’s maturity and growth process, emphasizing the need and necessity and importance of friendship, overall providing a bigger and clearer picture of friendship and its potential effects.

The Importance of Relationships: Its roles and Responsibilities

Upon reading Norman Kutcher’s (2000) article on friendships titled, “The Fifth Relationship: Dangerous Friendships in the Confucian Context”, I was left with several questions. In Kutcher’s (2000) article, friendship was defined and separated from the other relationships because of its uniqueness of its members and nature. He argues that friendship is an unstable relationship that could potentially upset the hierarchy in state and family relations (the other four relationships). However, his argument left me with several questions about the topic. I wanted to be better understand the role of the individual and the concept of man in Confucian thought to see how this related to relationships and human conduct in these relationships. I also wanted to comprehend and firmly grasp the ideas of relationships and friendships, in particular, its definition in Confucian terms. In addition, I also wanted to comprehend, in depth the importance of relationships in the growth and maturity of a man, whether friendship was something that was actually needed and required or just something voluntary as Kutcher (2000) argued in his essay. These concerns led me to research on the history of Confucian thought, the concepts and its beliefs on relationships, and the importance and role friendships played on growth and maturity. Through my research, I came across the following three academic sources.

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The first article is titled “The Confucian Concept of Man: the original formulation” about the formulation of man and the concept of man in Confucian thought by Scott Morton (1971). Morton begins by introducing the beginning of Chinese philosophy and their interest in the creation of an ethical framework for human conduct. In Chinese philosophy, especially Confucianism, it is difficult to differentiate between philosophy and ethics.

The first question that Morton (1971) wants to answer is how Confucius views man. The first concept is that Man is always considered as Man living inside of society. People are individuals, but all individuals live in societies and relationships; these societies, communities, whatever you want to call them exist in a network of duties, obligations, and rights (Morton, 1971). Secondly, there is also a stated hierarchy in Confucian thought as men in society are divided into two groups, the rulers and the ruled. And finally, probably Confucius’ most notable contribution to Confucian thought, is the idea of “Chun Tzu” or nobleman. The noble man is born noble and this is shown through his actions.

Morton (1971) continues to define moral character and the nobleman. Using translations mainly from Legge and Waley, Morton (1971) suggests six groups of characteristics and moral qualities that are important to the nobleman. The first is his resolution and firmness. The nobleman must be firm and decided. He is proud but not quarrelsome. He does not quit or give up on the right or the good way. The second group of moral characteristics consists of mildness, modesty, and humility. In third place is a well-balanced character. This refers to not only a perfection of delicately balancing all previously mentioned moral characteristics but also refers to his human life and relationship as a whole, reciprocity. What one man does not want done to him, he must not do to others. He knows what to do and when to do it, his style and mannerisms are very important in this balance of moral characteristics. The fourth is faithfulness; the gentleman must be one in whom others can trust. The fifth characteristic of the gentleman is his ability to admit to fault and imperfections. If he knows his mistake, he can correct it and perfect himself; if a man lacks this characteristic, he will become the inferior man. Finally, the sixth and last moral characteristic is independence. What the Analects mean by this is not his ability to be independent, but his ability to be separate and have general moral qualifications, not a specialist or a tool trained for a specific purpose. The nobleman is one who is fit and able to do anything.

According to Morton (1971), the man who is in the relationship must not only follow the rules and obligations of being in a specific relationship, but he must also be a nobleman in all cases. He must have the ability to determine and differentiate between the right and the wrong, and with resolution follow his path down the Good way. Every man has an important role to play, and depending on his situation, he should know the style with which he should perform in each.

Though this article does not directly discuss relationships and Confucian thought on friendship, Morton (1971) helps to shed light on the philosophies of Confucian thought, in particular Morton’s (1971) analysis on human conduct and the nobleman according to the Analects, and provides significant background information to help better understand the ideas put forth by Kutcher (2000). Morton’s (1971) particular analysis and detail about the nobleman adds to Kutcher’s (2000) argument about friendship because it details the priorities about a man and the way he should act towards his rulers, his family, and his friends. This helps me to analyze the argument because I can better analyze and critique Kutcher’s (2000) argument.

The second article is titled “Hearts in Agreemtn: Zhuangzi on Dao Adept Friendship” by Donald N. Blakeley (2008). This article by Donald Blakeley (2008) begins with an introduction to friendship in the Daodejing and then continues to compare this thought to the friendship defined in the Analects in Confucian thought. An understanding of friendships and how they are viewed in detail will help us better understand Kutcher’s (2000) suggestion of friendship and how it connects and plays a role in hierarchy in Confucian China. Blakeley defines friendship (which is taken from the Daodejing) as a relationship where one accepts and recognizes the other and his qualifications; people who are friends often share skills and expertise, and often times similar thoughts and values.

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Throughout the article, Blakeley (2008) defines friendship and analyzes it from a Daoist perspective. It is not until later in the article that Blakeley observes friendship in the terms of Confucianism and “Ren”. According to Blakeley (2008), priority resides in cultivating “the fullness of a virtuous life as defined by proper understanding of the cultural values of the past” (Blakeley 2008, p. 330). A ren person is cultivated and guided by ceremony and rituals, li. This li is then grounded in dao, or the way, of relationships and society which all operate under “Heaven”. In terms of friendships, the Analects and the Mencius advise that friendships have the following traits. The first is that the relationships must be based on a particular value and similar perspectives. “Befriend only the right persons” and “Cultivate friendship with the good”. The second is that friendship requires trust and sincerity, faithfulness and honesty. Good friends are ones that are devoted to virtuous living, exemplary persons or sages. The third characteristic is that friendships must work and embrace the wider contexts of human existence (such as family, political, government, ruler-ruled settings). This relationship must work within the grand matrix of the world. The fourth is that friendships are voluntary. The fifth is that friendships are equal (otherwise, it would belong with another of the five relationships). The sixth characteristic of friendships is that they are based on mutual respect and reciprocity, which also falls within the action and behavior of the nobleman in the aforementioned article by Morton (1971). Finally, friendship is conditional. This is a relationship meant to enhance all other human relations and roles. If a friendship mistakenly affects your ability to perform your duties and obligations in another relationship, this would not be a good friendship and should be ended.

Blakeley (2008) explores friendships in Chinese philosophy beginning with the Zhuangzi and then comparing that to the Analects. Through this analysis, we are able to better understand the context of friendship and how it is defined in the books and the philosophies of Confucius and other Chinese thought. By gaining an improved grasp on friendships in this context, will be able to have a more encompassing evaluation of Kutcher’s (2000) argument.

The finally article that will be taken into consideration upon evaluation of Kutcher’s (2000) article is Artuher W. Hummel’s (1960) titled “The Art of Social Relations in China”. The Chinese believed that life was about relationships, and how one managed those relationships would determine his success in society. There were a total of five relationships: the relationship of the ruler and the ruled, the father and son, the elder and younger brothers, husband and wife, and friend and friend. In every relationship, there are obligations and duties, there are also right and privileges granted by one or the other in that relationship. Hummel (1960) then begins to discuss and introduce Mencius and Confucius’ philosophy on man and their natural goodness. Through this goodness is virtue, and the gentleman is one who is able to share and give virtue and goodness to all. Hummel (1960) then also discusses the Confucian gentleman. The Confucian gentleman is one who has manners and is style and proper; he knows the situation and understands the accurate manners and performance in each. Human conduct, thus, became a large part of Confucian thought and consequently, Chinese thought. In his article Hummel (1960) states that is a mistake to think of Confucian ethics as a code, rule, or law. Instead, they are mere suggestions and persuasions, techniques used and highly prized in the Confucian world. Suggestion is the power to share and allow others to discover ideas almost by themselves. The gentleman and the loved man is one who is humble and large-minded. It is the ability to overlook small failings and care about the more important things and more significant things; it is the ability to differentiate between the small and the large things in life.

In this article, we are given a bigger and greater practical view on how relationships are managed and should be managed according to Confucian thought. Friendships, specifically, should be looked at to help develop and cultivate virtue. According to Hummel (1960), one must be able to relate to those with virtue, and be able to maintain friendships throughout one’s life. It is important to surround yourself with those who are better able to help you in the case of something happening. The Chinese place great importance on friendships because it is through friendships that one is better able to advance. The man who grows up and becomes a self-made man will be a lonely man; in the event of some unfortunate events, he will still be alone, with no one to help him along the way.

Understanding friendships through Hummel’s (1960) analysis helps better evaluate Kutcher’s (2000) assumptions about friendship and the importance and need of friendship in a person’s maturity, according to Confucian thought. This idea complements Blakeley’s (2008) analysis of friendship based on Confucian texts such as the Analects. Blakeley’s more detailed analysis on friendship thus helps us better understand friendship and its roles in society and to the individual in their maturity and growth. Finally, both of these contribute to a better understanding of Confucian thought presented by Morton (1971). Morton’s (1971) presentation on Confucian thought and values, along with Blakeley’s detailed analysis of friendship based on Confucian texts, together with the concept that relationships are the most important aspect according to Confucian thought allows us to grasp and better evaluate Kutcher’s (2000) argument on friendship and its role and effects in society and its members.


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