There are two main schools of thought in regard to human nature – legalism and confucianism. Legalism believes that humans are inherently evil, while confucianism believes that humans are good at their core. This difference in philosophy often determines the role that the state plays in the lives of its citizens. Those who believe in legalism tend to advocate for a more significant role by the state, while those who believe in confucianism argue for a limited role for the state.
The philosophy of Legalism is based on the law, technique and power.
This term is used to define the rule of law in society. This definition in ancient China referred to the recognition of excellence. Doing something correctly meant that someone should be rewarded, whilst errors should be punished. The concept of Law in Legalism is based on award and punishment. These fundamental concepts provide strict and detailed procedures on what is acceptable. The philosophy operates on a democratic basis where a person’s social status doesn’t matter when judged on behaviour.
The choice of means used to achieve an objective in Legalism are critical. Police officers cannot use torture to solicit information for potential suspects. The trial procedure has to be concrete, allowing evidence and testimony to override suspicion. The individual responsible for delivering and providing judgements is seen as a referee. These characters are born out of Machiavellianism as they advocate for statecraft.
The type of structure that forms the political system should be for the benefit of the people. The people’s thoughts, ideas and wills should be used to generate power for leaders to command others. Trends in a society should be used to allocate power to a ruler. Legalism is therefore based on the law traditions currently trending.
This complex philosophy operates through numerous sub-branches. It was founded by a scholar known as Confucius. Confucianism has a significant impact on the way people think. The philosophy tries to prevent chaos by having a set of moral guidelines that everyone must follow. It is based on the belief that humans are innately good.
Confucianism influences various sectors of daily living, such as social networking, moral code, political tradition and political correctness. The philosophy has a strong presence in education. The teachers often use Confucianism to shape the students’ behavior. Many people in Asia grow up being taught Confucian values. The three main values of Confucianism are: 1) being kind to others; 2) a sense of what is fair and right; and 3) being hardworking and obedient in serving one’s superiors.
Confucius taught his followers the importance of the government having a limited role in the lives of its citizens. He argued that the government is only meant to run the provision of food and military equipment and build confidence in the national leader. According to Confucius, the role of government was rudimentary and mainly designed to protect the population from invaders. It advocated for people to exercise their inherent rationality. Unnecessary state intervention in the economy was seen as chaotic. The teachings view individuals as the most important pillars of society in relation to heaven.
- Confucius taught that good governance is maintained through personal standards of virtue. Conversely, Legalists do not believe in ethics, morality, or decency.
- Confucius placed a significant value on the need for respect for patriarchal families (filial piety). Legalists view filial piety as manipulative and unpragmatic. They regarded the veneration of one’s ancestors as necessary only for collecting knowledge passed down.
- Both Legalism and Confucian base their requirements for government stability on well‐educated officials. The difference here is that Legalists expect to harness subjects’ energy by introducing explicit and strict laws.
- Legalism is very specific and does not deal with religion or abstract philosophy. Confucius operates with a moral, ethical & political character, whilst Legalism was not centred around the principles governing the place of human beings in nature. Their view of life was entirely practical.
- Legalism advocated for harsh punishments, even for minor crimes. Confucius looked at the moral reasoning behind any crime to determine the judgement. These moral standings were based on ren (courtesy), li (propriety), and xiao (filial piety).
The political philosophies of Confucianism and Legalism were designed to bring peace and order to Chinese society. The most notable difference is in their central beliefs- where Confucianism sees people as fundamentally good and Legalism viewing them as evil. As a result, Confuciansm focuses on each individual’s corresponding responsibilities while legalismcontrols everything through strict laws and harsh punishments. Understanding these key differences is essential to understanding Chinese culture and its impact on the world today.