Philosophical Outlook of Ancient China

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The Hundred Schools of Thought was an era of great cultural and intellectual expansion in China that lasted from 770 to 222 BCE. In around 500 BCE, after the Zhou state weakened and China moved in to the period of warring states, the classic period of Chinese philosophy, known as the Golden Age, began. This period saw the rise of numerous Chinese philosophers and academics. Many of the great Chinese texts have intensely enriched Chinese lifestyles and social awareness up to the present day. However, of the many schools founded at this time and during the subsequent Warring States Period, the three most influential ones were Legalism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

Legalism, the political philosophy concerned with the most effective way of governing society, is exemplified in the style, attitude, and philosophical outlook of the passage. Legalists portray humans as inherently evil and inclined toward criminal and selfish behavior. Thus, if humans are allowed to engage in their natural proclivities, the result will be conflict and social disorder. They must be shaped and guided. If humans are not “straightened and bent” like the wood in the passage, which must be changed to be useful, they will not fit the proper description and always be essentially bad or ineffectual. Legalists have said, “ Those who show capacity for their work… [will be] promised and rewarded, those who show incapacity… [will be] punished ” (Waley 178- 179) .The manipulation of the wood through its shaping may be compared to the rewards and punishments given to the people in a legalist society to maintain order in the community. The idea of depending on the law is also imperative throughout the passage. The passage reveals that “laws of the state must not be neglected”, indicating their importance and necessity. It may be simply stated, “ [the legalist] does not prize morality, he prizes the law” ( Waley, 155). This shows that there is an attitude of placing the law above all in this society....
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