Major Philosophical Schools: Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism

For the longest time, most people have contributed their thoughts and ideas on the topic of ideal societies. But only few have had their ideas widely publicized and accepted. For example, the ideas of communism or democracy largely impact our society today. A long time ago around 1027 – 256 BCE, this was still the case; three major schools of philosophy each constituted their own different ideal societies. Those three schools are Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism.

The central idea of Confucianism focuses on Jen and Li. Those principles discuss the importance of human heartedness, benevolence, perfect virtue, filial piety, and true manhood. Of those, filial piety is a vital concept and considered the most fundamental of the Confucianism values. “Filial piety and brotherly respect are the root of humanity,” (D1). The primary purpose of these is to reach order and harmony with heaven. “Blessing result when you respond to Heaven by creating order,” (D3). Because of such values, a ruler must follow them and set a perfect example so that those looking up to him may be influenced to do the same. “If a ruler sets himself right, he will be followed without his command,” (D2). While Confucianism is an ethic of moral uprightness, social order, and filial responsibility, legalism has an ethic of autocracy, centralized rules, and harsh penalties.

Out of the three major schools of philosophy, Legalism puts the most emphasis on the need for order over everything else. They highly stress the importance of law; they believe that law is the best way to achieve order. The law’s purpose in Legalism “is to praise the right and blame the wrong,” (D5) no matter ones’ status, class, or wealth. In order to have this put in place there has to be a great ruler to oversee it. but to be a great ruler, one must not depend on what his people say.

There are many examples of great rulers that had their people turn on them. To “win the hearts of people,” is not a way to rule nor have order within a society. “To seek for the worthy and the wise in selecting officials and to endeavor to suit the people in administering the government are equally the cause of chaos and not the means for attaining order,” (D4). Unlike Legalism, Daoism was not concerned with bringing order to human ways with severe laws, instead sought to live in harmony with nature with as little restrictions as possible.

Daoism believed that the ideal society led a balanced life of humbleness, selflessness, and simplicity to reach harmony in Moksha. This is shown in the yin yang, yin being the bad and yang being the good; “by blending these qi they attain harmony,” (D6). Daoism accentuates the importance of “the Way.” The Way has two main ideas: “manifest plainness… Do not think of just yourself,” (D7). If one does not follow that, they do not abide by the way to harmony and peace. It also claims that laws and regulations are not the way to go. “The greater the number of laws and enactments, the more thieves and robbers there will be,” (D8). Laozi states that as long as he does nothing, mankind will naturally go back to simplicity.

The three main schools of philosophy from 1027-256 BCE all have different opinions on the ideal society. Confucianism’s main idea is if you respect everyone around you and live to create order, heaven will be on your side. Legalism believes that the only way to achieve order is through strict laws and punishments. Daoism follows the way of nature- they live simply and humble. For all of what history knows, we have no idea of what an ideal society looks like until we achieve it.