Confucius vs. Aristotle on Virtue Unit

  • Uncategorized


Confuciusvs. Aristotle on Virtue


Confuciusvs. Aristotle on Virtue

In the modern world, experts and scholars in philosophy, sociology,psychology, and behavioral sciences among others, mostly depend onancient teachings on ethics and morality for guidance and reference.Ancient thinkers, who emerged from different civilizations, werelargely influenced by their religion and cultural background todevelop unique concepts of morality. In China, there was Confuciuswho was influenced by Buddhism while, in ancient Greece, there wasAristotle, who altered the Western views of ethics and morals. Thetwo ancient thinkers have convergent and divergent views on virtueethics and these are apparent in ethical practices in modern Chinaand the West, as this paper demonstrates.

  1. Confucius vs. Aristotle on Virtue

Confucius’ conception of ethics relates to the cultivation ofvirtues. He recognized the existence of four virtues or attributesthat are critical in making an ideal human being. They are:Benevolence/ humanity (Jen/ren), righteousness (Yi), propriety (li),wisdom (Zhi), and fidelity/sincerity (xin) (Confucius part 5). On theother hand, Aristotle taught that virtues are character traits, thatenable one to lead a good life. He recognized virtue as a product ofthe intellectual mind with attributes of the character beingdispositions to behave in certain ways according to prevailingstimuli (Aristotle 3).

Confucius believed that virtuousness was to be pursued everyone. Heanswered one of his students on the different ways a man could beuseful to the family, his friends, and community. Thus, the fivevirtues that Confucius listed applied to all humanity (Confucius part5). On the contrary, Aristotle believed that virtues were only apreserve of a few in society free-born Greek males. He also believedthat pursuing a ‘virtuous character’ was more sustainable inpromoting ethics than pursuing ‘virtuous actions’ (Aristotle 7)

Aristotle believed that the purpose of ethics was to enableindividuals to live a life of happiness. To Aristotle, the happinessof the individual is more important than that of other people(Aristotle 8). On the contrary, Confucius believed that living a lifeof virtuousness was an art of making the soul balanced andharmonious. This soul was also affected by its environment.Therefore, the fact that Confucius acknowledged life or the soul haddifferent compositions that work in harmony and equitably, meant thatindividuals had to satisfy all these attributes simultaneously(Confucius 17). Aristotle (part7) believed that intellectual virtuewas central to a life of virtuousness. To him, rationality orintellect required in choosing what is good or what is desirableaccording to society was, what made individuals virtuous.Contrariwise, Confucius placed the centrality of virtuousness oncultivation and portrayal of proper emotions and attitudes, which hedeemed more important than intellect (Confucius 17).

At the same time, the ancient scholars agreed on several thingsrelating to virtue. To start with, Aristotle and Confucius agree thata virtuous life is desirable and an ultimate state of living. Theyalso agree that leaders should be noble and that virtues play acritical role in guiding ethical behavior. As such, those who desireto be morally upright must pursue virtues and shun vices (Aristotle8). The authors also agree that societies should create institutionsto enforce virtuousness in society. By enforcing, they call forpunishing unethical persons and rewarding those, who adhere tocertain virtues.

B. Differences between Ancient Chinese and Ancient Greek Culture

As mentioned earlier, the teachings of Confucius and Aristotle areindicative of the ethical values, beliefs, and practices of theChinese and Greek cultures respectively. It is clear that the Chinesepeople are more interested in attaining a balance in life andbehavior. Furthermore, the virtuousness was desirable but very hardto achieve. As such, for the Chinese people, virtuousness in life isa dream to reach the state of an ideal person. Everybody is free oreven required to pursue this ideal state. In fact, the ideal man“cultivates himself so as to give rest to others” (Confucius 14).On the other hand, the Greek culture teaches that men and especiallythose from the higher social classes are best suited to pursuevirtuousness while the rest can live ordinary lives. Consequently,the Greek or Western culture may tend to tolerate immorality fromordinary people while expecting high ethical behavior from leadersand those occupying superior positions in society.

C.Virtue in Modern Settings

The best way to approach ethics in a diverse workplace is to combinethe two approaches to ethics. A hybrid approach not only showsrespect to various cultures but also combines the best from the twoworlds. Ideally, the humane approach to ethics recommended by Chineseculture and Confucius does not have much intrinsic value in modernbusiness management where competition and the motive for profits andindividual competence take precedence. However, the approach isrelevant as it emphasizes on the communal dimension of morality thatreverberates well with some modern management concepts such greenmovement and a sustainability approach that call for a collective orwholesome approach to organizational management.

Again, concerning influencing organizational behavior, Confucius’sidea of an ideal man that is hard to attain, but should be pursuedall the same is relevant in calling for continuous improvement in OB.As for Aristotle, the concept of seeking an ethical character asopposed to moral actions is more desirable as it projects consistencyin behavior. Aristotle’s call for moral character applies to modernleaders, who are mandated to create enabling environments for othersto develop virtuousness.


From the analysis above, it is evident that modern day organizationsand leaders have a lot to learn from the two ancient scholars. Bothof them have influenced the Western and Chinese cultures differently.However, there are some common agreements such as the good ofvirtuousness and the need for people to pursue it at all times. Forthe Chinese, virtuousness enables one to achieve balance and harmonyin life while in the western culture virtuousness enables individualsto attain happiness in life.


Aristotle (nd).Nicomachean Ethics. Retrieved from

Confucius (nd).Analects. Retrieved from

Close Menu