Taoism vs. Confucianism

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Taoism vs. Confucianism

The Quick Trick: Confucianism is a system of ethics, and Tao is a path of behavior.

The Explanation: 

Taoism and Confucianism are two of China’s oldest and most pervasive philosophies. They arose during roughly the same period in Chinese history, called the Hundred Schools of Thought, a time often marred by unrest and feudal strife. Both philosophies reflect this, as their overarching goals are to seek order and harmony in one’s life, relationship with society, and the universe.

Taoism is based on one of several philosophical constructs of right and wrong, light and dark, knowledge and truth called the tao (pronounced DOW, meaning “The Way”). Capital-T Taoism is based on the Tao Te Ching (The Doctrine of the Way and its Virtue, or something that translates roughly like that) attributed to Lao-tzu, who, if he existed, lived sometime between the seventh and fourth centuries B.C.. Akin to Buddhism, Taoism seeks to describe the harmonious way to relate to oneself, others, nature, and the universe. One of the head-twisty things about the Tao Te Ching is that it never specifically defines The Way. It’s a series of verses, poems, and riddles. It emphasizes control but not dominance, fluidity but not ambivalence, and mystery but not confusion. It’s full of helpful nuggets, like “Those with simple needs will find them fulfilled,” and “To glorify wealth, power, and beauty is to inspire theft, jealousy, and shame.” In its course, it’s also inspired some modern, pop culture–based philosophical treatises like The Tao of Homer and the Te [Virtue] of Piglet.

Confucianism is a philosophy from the same period and can be considered the other side of the Taoist coin. Confucius is the Latinized name of its founder, whose real name was the much more martial arts–sounding K’ung-Fu-tzu. His teachings and lectures are compiled in The Analects. Similar to Proverbs in the Old Testament or parables in the New, the analects depend heavily on analogy and...