“Sagely Wisdom in Confucianism”

  • Larry D. Harwood


Introduction: Though Westerners may count Chinese Confucianism as a religion, some are skeptical that Confucianism is indeed religious, while others see in Confucianism a kind of ethical humanism. Huston Smith noted the Chinese proverb that as a people the Chinese admit to being extraordinarily flatfooted,1 that is, with an eye toward the earth. By contrast, the West in general has derived much of its ethical framework from an overt theological and religious background.2 This is decidedly less so in China and in Confucianism. As the Sages of the Chinese people, neither Confucius nor Lao-Tzu is conceived of as a Savior, as Christ is in the Christian religion. There are of course differences between Taoism and Confucianism. Lao-Tzu is reported to have said, “Banish sageliness, discard wisdom, and the people will benefit a hundredfold.” However, in Confucianism, sageliness is the personification of an acquired wisdom that benefits the people in a way denied by Lao-Tzu. In this paper I will examine the Confucian notion of the sage, with some comparisons made along the way to Taoism and finally to Western thought.