Lao Zi and Confucius Philosophy Relationship Essay

January 14, 2022 by Essay Writer


In ethical studies, philosophers have always been argumentative and separated by the deep conflicting perceptions and objectives regarding virtues. However, there appears to be one shared positioning shared by diverse accounts contained by an orthodox methodology in morals concerning the appropriateness of acts. That is, they agree that morals are rule-focused. The principal orientation is on resolving some static moral rules that allegedly define the appropriateness of acts.

Some of these interpretations ruminates the static moral principles as ordered from without. To demonstrate this, in divine command theory, the moral rule follows that whatever God permits is right, whatever He prohibits is wrong and whatever He commands is obligatory. In ethical egoism, the rule follows that one must always maximize one’s own private good as an end.

In utilitarianism, the rule follows that an action is correct if and only if it generates at least as much equilibrium of good over bad in its repercussions for all individuals impacted as any other action presented to the agent. This essay seeks to explore reasonable relationship between ‘superior virtue’ as advocated by Lao Zi and ‘disciplined morality’ advocated by Confucius.

Superior and inferior virtue

During the early development of a human being, there exist differences of conditions, phase, and bodily constitution. The actions taken hence vary in accordance to each individual. In this regard, superior virtue denotes childhood and young age. On the other hand, inferior virtue denotes adulthood and aging.

In reference to the values of transformation, in early human physical and psychological development, the body develops like a new bud. In putting this in the context of the Daode jing, this is known as ‘superior virtue’. Daode jing is the Book of the Way and its Virtue. Upon the development and adulthood, Principle, Breath and Soul are expended and ought to be restocked. In the pseudoscience practice, the restocking is ‘inferior virtue’. An individual require restocking what is lacking (Mu, 2011).

In essence, superior and inferior virtues emerged from the legendary Lao Zi; the supreme divinity admired in Daoism religion. According to Lao Zi, a person of superior virtue is not righteous. That is the reason why he has virtue. On the other hand, an individual of inferior virtue can never lose virtue. Consequently, he lacks virtue. An individual with superior virtue does not act consciously. Therefore, he acts out of nothing. On the contrary, an individual of inferior virtue acts out of something since he makes sentient action.

An individual of superior compassion acts out of nothing when he takes action. When an individual of superior morality takes action, he acts out of something. When an individual of superior politeness takes action and nobody reacts, he rolls his sleeves and show them the way to it. Consequently, an individual achieves virtue only after dropping the Dao.

He achieves compassion after dropping virtue. He achieves morality after dropping compassion. Finally, he achieves politeness upon dropping morality. Politeness entails the artificial features of allegiance and conviction. It is therefore the foundation of disorder (Lao, 1999).

Prudence entails the flower of the Dao. It is therefore the foundation of deceit. This is the reason truly great men involve themselves with the substance. They do not involve in duplicity’s superficial features. They involve themselves in its fruits as opposed to its flower. They reject one and accept the other. Virtue entails attainment (de). It means continuous attainment devoid of losing and benefit devoid of harm. The name ‘virtue’ is hence used to refer to this cycle.

It is attained from the Dao. An individual achieves it by operating out of nothing. In that regard, everyone is upheld (Zai). Consequently, as far as other people are concerned, when nothing is applied to them, there will be order. However, if something is applied to them by another person, they will lose the means to get away with their lives (Lao, 1999).

Why Lao Zi criticize inferior virtue

The person of inferior virtue is viewed as one who seeks virtue in order to attain it. He achieves it through conscious effort. Lao Zi reckons that the attainment of virtue should not be compelled by any external force. It should just happen. The person of inferior virtue creates goodness as a way to maintain people in order hence is deceitful. He acquires a reputation for ‘virtue’.

He consciously pursues it to fulfill it. He will hence lose it. When the term ‘goodness’ emerges, it means that initially, there was a ‘not good’ facet corresponding to ‘goodness’. To eliminate the ‘not bad’ facet, he acts out of something, the ‘not good’ pressure.

Lao Zi teaches that an individual requires contemplating the eternal Dao devoid of the supremacy of the static formulation of Dao in order to reach the vantage-point from where one can attain own’s complete comprehension of the eternal Dao. In this regard, pursuing virtue in the short-term through fixed moral principles is rather limited and cannot exhaust the eternal Dao.

As per the Confucian’s principle of virtue, every great man should be sensitive to the wellbeing of others. This is achieved through ren which helps in the maintenance of peace. Lao Zi views this as deceit that negate that the fundamental unifying force runs across the universe and things pursue their own course without any effort.

How a Confucian would respond to Lao Zi’s criticism

The morality of Confucianist ethics is founded on compassion and loyalty. It is about good and evil of mankind. It is about denying the self and returning to politeness. Lao Zi observes politeness as one of the routes in the pursuit of virtue. A Confucian would reflect on the inner self to see if they have done enough to help others out of compassion.

While Lao Zi would not be concerned about being honest with others because that would mean that one was not initially honest hence seek to act to attain honesty, a Confucian would be troubled wondering whether or not they have been honest and sincere in dealing with others. A Confucian would not take it well when Lao Zi does not do anything to be faithful and compassionate to others (Yang, 2014).

The concept of Ren is one that Confucius seems to dwell on in order to achieve virtue. Ren is composed of gravity, reticent, modesty, tolerance, generosity, diligence and trustworthiness. Lao Zi criticizes these as aspects that have been pursued to achieve virtue. Lao Zi holds that the display of these means that the opposite was initially there and that’s why a person pursuing virtue will practice ren to account for the void hence lacks virtue irrespective of pleasing others (Mou, 2001).

Accounting for Lao Zi’s and Confuciu’s teachings

The paradox that exists between Lao Zi and Confucian’s view of virtue emerges from how a man of superior virtue comes to be. Both perspectives relates to virtue. However, according to Lao Zi, virtue is not pursued. There should be neither external nor internal coercion for one to be virtuous.

It should be there from the beginning as it exists across the universe and cannot be changed since it is eternal. On the other hand, Confucian observes that virtue is pursued by one acting to be benevolent and loyal. Loa Zi would see loyalty as deceit in the pursuit to create order in terms of peace and harmony. This means that initially there was ‘disorder’ for one to strive to attain ‘order’.

The interpretation of both theories suggests that virtue is an essential part of human excellence that enables us to flourish. When one takes a superficial perspective, one may end up focusing on something else (one’s own flourishing) as opposed to particular people. Consequently, when one attempts to be virtuous under such a perspective, one may actually become less virtuous. This will present a situation of ‘paradox of virtue’ (Mou, 2001).


In account of virtue, the humanistic virtuousness is founded on naturalistic metaphysical basis. Lao Zi holds that virtue ethics that place emphasis on the virtues as opposed to general principles is not superior to the dimension of moral motivation. Lao Zi also holds that man of superior virtue acts out of nothing to attain virtue while man of inferior virtue acts out of something to fulfill it.

Confucians hold that every great man of virtue should be persuaded by the urge to forfeit their self-interest for the betterment of others. By so doing, there will be peace as each seeks to live in benevolence. Confucius sought to drive the idea of morality into leadership to demonstrate the role they can play in ensuring peaceful co-existence of mankind.


Lao, Z. (1999).The classic of the way and virtue: A new translation of the tao-te ching of Lao Zi as interpreted by Wang bi. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Mou, B. (2001). Moral rules and moral experience: A comparative analysis of Dewey and Lao Zi on morality. Asian Philosophy 11(3): 161-178.

Mu, W. (2011). Superior virtue and inferior virtue. Web.

Yang, S. (2014). The basic morality of Confucianists’ ethics and Jung’s moral ideas. Web.

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