Confucius, born in a time of instability and confusion, proposed his doctrines of ‘virtue as the basis of governing” and the ‘rectification of names.”
(a) On Virtue as the Basis of Governing
Confucius said, “A ruler who governs by virtue is like the north polar star, which remains in its place while all the other stars revolve around it.” (Analects, BK. 2).
He again said, “Guide them by edicts, keep them in line with punishments, and the common people will stay out of trouble but will have no sense of shame. Guide them by virtue, keep them in line with rites, and they will, besides having a sense of shame, reform themselves.” (Analects, BK. 2),
In replying to a minister, he said, “To govern is to correct. If you set an example by being correct, who would dare to remain incorrect?” (Analects, BK. 7).
These several passage are meant to point out that a ruler’s way of cultivating himself and governing others must be based on virtue. Only when the ruler sets an example in his own conduct and transforms the people with his virtue can political order be effected.
(b) On the Rectification of Names
The Content of this doctrine is summed up in the following passages: Duke Ching of Chi asked Confucius about government. Confucius answered, “Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, the father a father, the son a son.” The Duke said “If the ruler be not a ruler, the subject not a subject, the father not a father, the son not a son, then even if there be grain, would I get to eat it” (Analects, BK. L 2).
The above Conversation took place when Chen Heng, who was only a minister, took change of national affairs in the state of Chi. At roughly the same time, Duke Chao of Lu was exiled to Chi by the Chi family. Confucius was appalled by the dissolution of political order, so he insisted that the proper status of ruler and subject be restored. When Confucius took office as the police commissioner of Lu, the first thing he did was attempt to support the legitimate government and to destroy the capital city of each of three powerful noble families. Confucius thought that if the distinction between ruler and subject was not maintained, and the relationship between father and son was not properly defined, then politics could not be set in order and the common people could not live in peace. And without a stable government, there could not be a stable society. In the final analysis, the main thrust of Confucius’ doctrine of the rectification of names is the insistence that the ultimate goal of government is to serve the welfare of the people.
Kung Te-Cheng, the 77th lineal descendent of Confucius.