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Thought Systems Demonstrate Reverence for Nature

In particular, there are five great virtues, which conceptually interpenetrate: jen, which refers to kindness and courtesy; li, which refers to adherence to propriety; shu, which comes down to the Golden Rule; hsiao, which is filial piety; and wen, which refers to ornamentation, or more generally, beauty (Molloy, pp. 24-248). The interpenetration of these virtues can be seen inasmuch as ethics is associated with filial piety toward ancestors (hsiao), and ethical duty and adherence to formal rules are associated with li. Basically, the subject under review can be characterized as personal virtue and proper behavior (Pelikan, p. 33). In his emphasis on ethical forms (li) and on courtesy, which is jen, the ethical content of the forms, Confucius developed cultural and political ideas that were meant to reclaim the moral content of a new golden age.

These virtues are important precursors of the Confucian attitude toward T'ien, or Nature, which is equivalent to Heaven and/or Providence (Pelikan, p. 41). There is a kind of impersonality but also a kind of inevitability to the nature of Nature in Confucius' formulation. The big picture is that humankind is meant to conform its practices to the relentless inexorability of natural law by adopting and enacting virtues. As XVII.19 of the Analects explains:

Heaven does not speak; yet the four seasons run their course thereby, the hundred creatures, each after its kind, are born thereby. Heaven does no speaking! (Confucius, 1991, p. 214)

At III.13, Confucius says that one "who has put himself in the wrong with Heaven has no means of expiation" (p. 97). That tends to suggest that natural law is meant to be obeyed no matter what. However, it is important to recognize Confucius' social and elitist orientation, his wish to recover the golden age of the Chou culture. Thus educated elites who understood their culture were placed on a whole different plane from the peas...

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