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forward to a new age on earth. He refused to think of himself as an
innovator. He insisted all of his life that his purpose was not to intro-
duce anything new into Chinese society, but to restore what was good
about antiquity. Confucius was ultimately a practical, this-worldly
philosopher. His program for reforming China probably impressed
many people as impractical, and indeed it may have been, but his ulti-
mate concerns were with the here-and-now rather than the there-
and-then. He wanted to restore order and morality to China more than
he wanted to speculate about the world's creation or the disposition of
the gods or what happens to us when we die. His answer to queries
about these topics are classic. When asked about death, Confucius
replied, “Never having understood life, how can we know about
death?” He had no taste for discussing supernatural or paranormal
phenomena; the Analects record that “the Master did not speak of
strange phenomena, feats of strength, chaos, or gods.” Spirits and gods
been a theist. More important for him than the question of the exis-
tence or nonexistence of the spirits and gods was the question of what
to do with them: “Pay your respect to the spirits and gods but keep
them at a distance.” What good did it serve to speculate at length
about them or to be preoccupied with them? There were enough press-
ing concerns in this life to occupy all of a person's time.
Although Confucius was not religious in the sense that he set aside
questions about the divine and the afterlife, he did have a reverence
for Heaven that seems to border on something approaching the fervor
of religious devotion. For him, Heaven was not as much the abode of
a divine being or immortal souls as it was the embodiment of nature
or the cosmos. For him, Heaven or nature displayed the order, rhythm,
and predictability that he wanted to replicate in the social order.
Heaven was trying to speak with us and had something to teach us if
we could just hear it. We as human beings should observe and learn
the well-ordered regularity and constancy of Heaven and be impressed
by it—we had only to see how the seasons come and go in an orderly
manner, how the seasons change in order, how the agricultural cycle
begins and ends every year, and so on.
Mencius (c. 380-289 B.C.)
Confucius had many successors or continuators, not all of whom
were distinguished. Eventually two thinkers, born well after his death,
emerged as representing two distinct strands or varieties of Confucian
thought: Mencius and Xunzi.
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