Apr 9, 2019 in Law

The Concepts of Justice, Harmony and Virtue

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Confucius’ teaching became popular at the reign of Zhou Dynasty that is famous in the Chinese historiography for its strong feudal administrative system. Old values were about to be modified at the face of the rise of humanism, so Chinese leaders supported the rise of a new system of values with respect to individuality of each representative of the government, common people, religious leaders and political characters in the country.

The concepts of justice, harmony and virtue presented a great interest in the field of Eastern Studies, including ancient and modern researches. The philosophy of the East (Japan and China) has strong backgrounds and arguments for basic humanistic values that are of the great interest and should be taught and promoted all around the globe. Particularly, the teaching of Confucius, Chinese philosopher Kong Fuzi (551-479 BCE) is interesting due to the almighty power of his wisdom and unified conception of governmental and individual conception. This harmonistic approach is valuable in terms of the quality of education, elections, philosophy of thinking and arranging knowledge between people of different ages. In this relation, Confucius was aware that there is a power that can be successful in the determination of knowledge and emotions, rational and irrational, reasonable and unreasonable.

In the context of Confucian values, the concepts of justice, virtue and harmony are interrelated and can be a part of social relationships between a state and its citizens and between people themselves. These concepts are topical in relation to mutual obligations, optimization of balance between differences, contrasts without any uniformity or conformity and equilibrium. Virtues in this context are considered as core values in morality and judicial system.

In other words, the government should promote justice in the society in order to motivate people for exemplary behavior and prevent them from wrongdoings in the harmonic relations with other individuals and the government. Harmony can be stimulated by virtues that create positive settings for being a part of the healthy society. In this relation, Confucian philosophy is the one that can greatly contribute to the understanding of social justice as the way people can be responsible to each other.

The Concept of Harmony

According to Confucius, the concept of harmony is related to “playing music correctly”, both as for the government and the society. This can be explained as the “proper order as alternative” (Magagna, 2015), as balance between moral and material, body and soul in reference to the major interest for the society, government and each personality. In addition, the governmental policy can produce harmony by minimizing bureaucracy. However, Confucius thought that harmony can be reached only by motivating people to act correctly towards themselves and others, including fulfilling mutual obligations to other people and the government.

Confucius also developed and supported an interesting notion about the rhythm of life, which the philosopher arranged in the musical aspect: “An efficient way to secure “governing by virtue” was to perform rituals and play music correctly” (Yao, 2000, p.22). Playing music means the way a human feels the rhythm of life, but every issue and every feeling is what people can understand as the major way to lead life correctly in accordance with the specific music. This is just a metaphor, but it gives an opportunity for understanding how to deal with life issues and cases, which can be called accords in the play of life. In this relation, Confucius’ teaching votes for the “restoration of social and moral excellence” (Yao, 2000, p.23). The philosopher agreed that morality should be followed by each person for it can be effective and useful in interrelations between people. Confucius’ teaching was delivered as a “collection of moral proverbs, which represents the primitive stage of the progression of the Absolute Spirit” (Yao, 2000, p.25). Later, it was developed in the teaching of humanism, which became popular in the 18th century. Both morality and liberty appeared to be harmonized by Confucius as he was aware that the government, people and each person in particular should feel free in the realm of their consciousness by means of fulfillment of moral concepts, which leads to developing a powerful personality.

The Concept of Justice (Chinese Yi)

According to Confucian philosophy, justice means proper shares, mutual obligation and reciprocity. It can be treated as correction of human feelings towards harmony between honor and shame without any uniformity or conformity. There is a need of optimization of differences and alternatives, both in state and in person. Justice can be felt in the state and condition of every personality who agrees to optimize his or her lifestyle and way of thinking in reference to equilibrium – stability over time. Balance in differences of interests, opinions and social votes is expressed in justifying “the essence of virtue and practical knowledge”, “emotional and health harmony of reason, emotion, desires, self and others’ interests” (Magagna, 2015). In this relation, balance is mean but not average; it can be compared with appropriate blending that can be effectively reached through the governance in search of justice.

An honorable system of justice, according to Confucius, should be measured by the comfort of the state and its citizens. The philosopher was rather focused on the principles of justice in morality rather than in law. He was aware that although the symbiotic system can overload the judicial system, the latter should coincide with moral laws in terms of customs.

By the way, Confucius was aware that judicial system should be developed in a new way that cannot contradict the overall nature of humanity. All people are different, but they are all guided by the same principles in search of comfort. However, the philosopher proposed a universal solution to justice problems and called it “dao” (Chinese, - “the way”), which means the “world of goodness and harmony” (Yao, 2000, p.23). This can be reached by means of the deeper understanding of the real world threats and benefits, with inner abilities of harmonic life perception “cultivated to more completely achieve the satisfaction of human needs” (Qi, 2014, p. 179). In this relation, virtues are to be studied to relieve from the darkness of mind, which can develop creative potential instead destructive capabilities.

According to Confucius, understanding words and concepts is vital for justice, for “if you do not understand fate, how can you be a superior person; if you do not understand vital, how can you become established; if you do not understand words (concepts), how can you criticize others” (Magagna 2015). This way is constructed in balance between Tao and Dao, which adds up much to human existence due to correct “music playing” and feeling the rhythm of life and love.

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The Concept of Virtue

Virtues are the core values and principles, both moral and material. They are not related to self sacrifice but to social obligation between the members of society. For example, virtues can coincide with family responsibility, responsibility to self (virtue as balance in socializing), respect to one’s interests and interests of others in terms of the past, present and future.

Virtue can be correctly treated on the matter of the audience dependent on ratification of failure or success. It is all about moral excellence in virtues that should be more or less fulfilled on the way to the target – happiness.

Each virtue is important in the ontological aspect of independence, interdependence and interconnection in different fields of human activity: virtuous, achievement, family responsibility, wisdom, etc. On the part of society, it can be expressed by the example of the eco family: “family is like a forest” (Magagna, 2015). Family life, according to this viewpoint, can be very well assessed in culture, history, leadership, self-cultivation (mom and dad), humanization, development, household income, bringing up children, responsibility, emotions, mind-body balance and psycho-physical harmony.

The famous quotation from Confucius’ teaching sounds reasonable in the context of good care of humanistic virtues: “Enrich Them; Educate Them” (Magagna, 2015). This option was famous and popular in the later period even after Confucius’ death. His teaching of harmony appeared to be useful within 551-220 BC when it was referred to in relation to treating the differences between policy and politics: “policy as the production of harmony” vs. “politics as the world ordering through self cultivation” (Magagna, 2015). Both politics and policy are related to interrelation between citizens and government in the field of self, society and cosmos.

Cohen and De Bary (1999) expressed the alternative to this viewpoint in the form of the “negative golden rule”: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do you”. This rule is the universal reciprocity that can be treated as a moral obligation towards the determination of the roles of people in completion of reasonable mutual obligations. While in East Asian thought there is no dualism between mind and body as reason and emotion, the harmony is achieved as balance and wellness through self-cultivation. According to Magagna (2015), each person is self-centered up to the risk to die when grow old: “when you were young, you were arrogant and insolent, when you given to adulthood, you accomplished nothing, now you are old and yet you refuse to die. You are indeed a post”. The problem is not only to stay in life as long as one can, but to live high-quality lives without any need to suffer, feel negative emotions, get excessively worried, etc. There is a need to stay active and tuned with life by feeling harmonic nature.


Confucius suggested proper explanations to the terms of justice, harmony and virtues via his teaching of mutual moral obligations between individuals and between the government and its citizens. This harmony leads to justice that can be treated in respect to basic human values, both in morality and law. Virtues can be achieved through the balance between logical and illogical, rational and irrational, mind and body, psycho and physical. Later, this viewpoint was developed and traced in the philosophy of humanism.

Confucius was aware that concepts of justice, harmony and virtue are the main in understanding the meaning of humanism in the universal approach. The philosopher related these values both towards the government and Chinese citizens living. It is interesting that Confucius delivered his teaching by traveling from one region to another. This helped him to enjoy life to the full. Additionally, teaching by traveling was effective due to the absence of other methods of spreading a teaching except for public speaking in different regions.

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