The notion of virtue demonstrated both by Aristotle and Confucius were defined by the specificity of their cultures, philosophies, and worldviews. Generally, the virtues determined by the philosopher belonging to a certain ethnic group could be considered as the representation of what was right and wrong for this group. Thus, this knowledge can offer rather deep insight into the attitude to the world and improve the general understanding of it. Comparing Aristotle and Confucius in the aspect of their ideas related to virtue, it is possible to see that the Chinese philosophy promoted perceiving virtue in more strict and accurate way, while Aristotle had more liberate and moderate ideas conditioned by the Greek philosophy and culture.
First, one should define how the historical, social, and cultural context had influenced the way the understanding of virtue was formed for the philosophers. The time of Confucius was the period of cruel and numerous civil wars (Conklin & Lee, 2008). Therefore, the main task that this significant philosopher had defined for his ideas was to establish peace and bring harmony into people's lives, and, not less important, into their souls. As a result, he was able to suggest them to follow five main virtues. The most important virtue in accordance with the belief of Confucius was the fair desire of the good related to the other people ("The Analects by Confucius", n.d. Section I). Considering the social conditions, in which he had lived, and the extreme aggressiveness of the environment, it was the only way for people to find peace in their souls. At the same time, Aristotle lived in the rather peaceful and generally more appropriate conditions for developing philosophic ideas. He was sure that virtues could not be limited only to goodness and kindness, as the man might be kind and peaceful but full of lust that was not appropriate. He had to deal with the idea of his precedes that were topical in the ancient Greece; thus, he had developed his own system of moral and ethical values that could be regarded as the necessary conditions for the genuine virtue. In addition, Aristotle’s approach was based on the ideas related to the perfect man, as he was understood by the ancient Greeks, and it made a significant influence on the development of the virtue concept. Generally, Aristotle’s approach to the understanding of virtue could be considered as a more narrow and complicated than the one of Confucius, as it included much more aspects of human nature.
At the same time, despite all the differences, the main aim and idea of defining virtues were the same for both philosophers. Aristotle created his Nicomachean Ethics, and Confucius wrote The Analects to create the most optimal way of the human existence in the world for being in harmony with one’s self and the environment. Both philosophers tried to define the collection of the rules and laws that were also aimed to make the cooperation between people peaceful. With the help of his virtues and the implied behavior related to each of them, Confucius thought it was possible to achieve social and political harmony in country he lived in, which should have led to the implementation of Supreme Harmony existing between heaven and earth (Sayre, 2014). Aristotle also examined his virtues in the aspect of supporting the social-political order in society, and his moral laws had a more intellectual implication ("Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle", n.d., Book II). Specifically, his intellectualism can be related to perceiving philosophical activity of the human being as the most virtuous one, as it implies both the cognition of the world around and the man. Confucius did not have such an intellectual aspect since he saw virtue as an exceptionally moral phenomenon ("The Analects by Confucius. Book II", n.d.).
The virtue of Aristotle's understanding primarily implied following the approach of the golden mean, which meant moderate approach to any situation and the avoidance of any passions. For Aristotle, it was the main way to keep one’s life, body, and mind in the balance and not to succumb to temptations. Moral activity of the soul and the genuine virtue are always aimed at receiving the highest good, as it implied the main way to happiness. Happiness taken from pleasure was not considered real, according to the ideas of Aristotle ("Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, Book III", n.d.). At the same time, the highest virtue of Confucius was rather different. He determined general five main virtues that should have been mastered by the man full of dignity. The virtue of the perfect behavior, according to Confucius, should have played the most crucial role in the development and saving of morality of the rulers and simple people. In addition, following the rules, traditions, and customs was one of the main virtues of Confucius, while this aspect was ignored in the ethics of Aristotle ("The Analects by Confucius, Section 4", n.d.).
Both philosophers in their ideas separated the material aspect of being from the notion of virtue. Confucius promoted the idea of sincerity, honesty as the main ones, along with genuine humanity, common sense and kindness (Sayre, 2014). Aristotle had an idea that money was able to make false sense of happiness in the life that was based on pleasure but not on the proper activity of the mind.
The ideas represented by both philosophers can be applied to the modern conditions in the case of the ethical issues that might take place in the modern world. For instance, perceiving the idea of treating all people in the same equal way, from the perspectives of fair and honesty, which was topical for Confucius, can be related to the current situation with the diverse workplace. It implies that many people of different origins have to cooperate, but it might potentially lead to the conflicts. Applying Aristotle’s virtue of the golden mean, one can develop the most optimal way of communication at the workplace that will not allow anything unnecessary or provocative in the communication.