Skip to main content

Logic of Confucius in the Philosophy of Ancient China

Nikolas likes to find common points in Western and Eastern philosophy, especially in the sphere of logic


Chinese sage

Chinese sage

Opinion of V.Alekseev

  • In the 20s of the twentieth century the interpretation of the philosophy of Confucius by Hu Shih interested a famous Russian Sinologist, Academician V.M. Alekseev. He dedicated his article "The Teachings of Confucius in Chinese Synthesis" to this topic. V.M. Alekseyev commended that in the work of Hu Shih "for the first time such a complex subject as Confucius's teaching found an accurate expression, devoid of the orthodox formulas of antiquity and banal transpositions to the spoken language of children, which reduce the value of words and thoughts" .
  • Thus, the founder of Soviet scientific Chinese studies noted the historical and philosophical thoroughness of Hu Shih. In accordance with the principles of research that he defended and promoted, Hu Shi, in particular, prefaced the presentation of Confucius philosophy with a critical analysis of the sources. He regarded the Zhou Yi, the commentary appendices to the canonical part of that text, the Sitsi Zhuan and the Wenyang Zhuan, the Chunqiu and the Lun Yu as reliable, despite the presence of later insertions; He declared two other appendices to the I Ching, Shogua and Zagua, and Xiao Ching (Canon of filial piety) to be fake, which in his opinion, was a "lie created [in the Han era]". In his opinion, it was not at all a "falsehood created [in the Han era

Sentiments in China and Greece

  • In his opinion, it was not at all a "falsehood created [in the Han era]". Hu Shi was adverse to the authorship of Confucius and the authenticity of many other traditionally authoritative books, such as Li Ji, Kun Zi Jia Yu ("Sayings of Confucius House") and so on. As for Confucius's own views, Hu Shih clearly characterized their political dominance: Confucius was a "fierce conservative". According to Hu Shi, the sentiments in China at the time of Confucius were very similar to those that overpowered the ancient Greek public.
  • In Greece "conservatives" like Socrates and Plato hated sophists; in China retrogrades like Confucius were unwilling to tolerate their "sophistoversiarchs" (1). "As in Greece they persecuted sophists, and in China representatives of the conservative current, such as Confucius and his like, similarly treated the same kind of "heretical (or "harmful" - V.K.) doctrines" (sesho, 邪說)". He regarded the "sophists" as a certain social group that appeared, in his opinion, around sixth century B.C. He considered these "destructive thinkers or iconoclasts of that era" to be very similar to the sophists familiar from Plato's Dialogues

Chinese "Sophists"

  • The Chinese "sophists", like their Greek counterparts, left very few of their own writings. According to Hu Shi, this group arose as a result of the growing demand for talent in politics, diplomacy, and warfare. Their business was "to preach radical views on matters of public life and government, and to instruct young men in private and public conduct, as well as in the conduct of disputes and defenses in court". Of the "heresies" widespread in the era of Confucius and so troubling to him, Hu Shih primarily named the teachings of Lao Tzu and the "dialectic" of Deng Xi. Somewhat unexpectedly and, at first glance, unmotivatedly, Hu Shih named Shaozheng Mao along with these names, which are firmly associated in the cultural consciousness with certain philosophical texts.
  • It turns out that Confucius once ordered the death penalty to be imposed on this historical character for his ideological "heresy". Meanwhile, he did not leave the slightest trace of his ideas in the monuments of ancient Chinese thought. Mention of the execution episode in the biography of Confucius in the Shi Ji, as well as in the Xun Tzu and in the medieval collection Kun Tzu Jia Yu, in this context is very noteworthy.

Doubts of Chinese scholars

  • According to the Shi Ji, Confucius as the head of judicial department and as a temporary acting minister of his native kingdom Lu, "executed the Lu dafu (dignitary. - V.K.) Shaocheng Mao for sedition against the ruling". According to Hu Shih's interpretation, Shaocheng Mao "lived in such a way that parties and circles formed around him, he spoke in such a way that he could excite the masses with his eloquence, he was so strong that he could rebel against the existing order and isolate himself". This episode itself was already a cause for discussion in traditional Chinese historical scholarship. In the opinion of some staunch Confucianists of the Qing dynasty, the execution story belittled the image of Confucius as a champion of "humanity" (zhen) and was therefore considered unreliable.
  • Chinese scholars also expressed doubts about this in the 20th century. At that time, the image of Confucius became emblematic within the framework of, in the words of L.S. Perelomov, "the institution of politics and history" i.e. the established principles and techniques of using historical images and ideas in the current political and ideological polemics

The Thesis of Cofucius' Struggle

  • At the same time, the image of Confucius becomes emblematic within the framework of, as L.S. Perelomov puts it, "the institution of politics - history" i.e., the established principles and techniques of using historical images and ideas in the current political and ideological polemics. Hu Shi, in fact, accused Confucius and his associates of "using administrative resources" to oppose dissent. These accusations were repeated by the inspirers of the "cultural revolution" during the "criticism of Lin Biao and Confucius" campaign (1971-1975). The Confucianists were portrayed by the organizers of this campaign as conservatives who hindered the progressive activities of the Legists, who were building an "advanced" feudal monarchy designed to unify China and give impetus to the development of its productive forces.
  • The confrontation between Confucianists and Legists in ancient China was projected onto the struggle of Mao Zedong and his followers against those who were "following the capitalist path" and who were "putting sticks in the wheels" of communist social change. Kiselev V.A. Confucius' doctrine and "Confucian logic" as interpreted by Hu Shih Confucius was also reminded of the execution of Shaozheng Mao, who was, of course, declared to be a progressively thinking legist. The thesis of Confucius's struggle against dissent in Chinese historical-philosophical science has survived and still has supporters. But it was Hu Shih who unwittingly pioneered the subsequent ideological practice of using the image of Confucius as a political "negative".
Scroll to Continue

Hu Chih

Chinese scientist Hu Shich

Chinese scientist Hu Shich

The Role of the Book of Changes

  • However, for Hu Shih, as already noted, it was important to demonstrate scientific objectivity (Confucius is at the same time a "humanist" and one of the undisputed founders of Chinese philosophy), as well as to show the place of Confucius and Confucianism in the history of Chinese philosophy in relation to its more "perspective" currents. "The foundation of Confucius philosophy lies in the I Ching", the pragmatic thinker believed. It is in this monument Confucius allegedly discovered the methods and origins of transforming society in his own way, i.e., according to Hu Shih, the basis of the "method" of his philosophy, its "logic".
  • Pointing out that Plato's "logic," based on the concept of the unchanging idea, emerged as a reaction to Heraclitus' doctrine of change, Hu Shih found "remarkable" the fact that the book containing "most of the basic doctrines of Confucian logic" is known as the "Book of Changes." According to Hu Shih, Confucius revealed in this text (and as a supposed author of the main philosophical appendices he explicated in its appendices) the concept of "change" (4) as a continuous, understandable and controllable process of change from the simple and small to the complex and great, "a symbolic representation of the manifold changes in the universe". Hu Shih (1922)

Hexagrams and Trigrams

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. How does the Book of Changes start off?
    • With eight hexagrams
    • With eight trigrams
  2. What will we receive if to cut hexagrams into half?
    • Hexagrams
    • Trigrams
  3. How many hexagrams could you make?
    • There are 45
    • There are 64

Answer Key

  1. With eight hexagrams
  2. Hexagrams
  3. There are 64


Chan Wing-Tsit. Hu Shih and Chinese Philosophy // Philosophy East and West. — 1956. — Vol.6

Hu Shih. Religion and Philosophy in Chinese History. — Shanghai: China Institute of Pacific Relations, 1931.

Hu Shih. The Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China. — Shanghai: The Oriental Book Co., 1922.

Related Articles