Confucius sorted out the books and records of the Xia and Shang dynasties (about 21st-11th century BC), and reflected on the Zhou culture, which initiated the broad themes and structure of the Confucian philosophy. His discussions with his disciples, which were recorded into books like The Analects of Confucius, were considered important canons of the philosophy. Confucius created the philosophy of "benevolence", and taught people to exert moral instinct in their daily lives and behaviors, which involve politics, education, and ethics, and also the building of proper relationships among the people. He basically accepted the existence of god and spirits, and thought one should follow the instructions of heaven. However, he took the existence of god and spirits in a very rational way, being rather different from his Western counterparts. Heaven itself reveals ethics, while god and spirits just provide some useful information, but cannot intervene with the Confucius saints. Meanwhile, he also broke away from the previously popular attitude towards heaven based on the gains and losses in everyday life. He advocated a proper relationship between god and people based on rational cognition. The sacredness of heaven is highly valued, but the moral values of heaven are even more emphasized.
Confucian philosophy provides the mainstream traditional Chinese values permeated throughout history with its morals and political ideals playing dominant roles in most of ancient Chinese dynasties. These values are still very influential in shaping the ethics and outlooks of Chinese people.
The Confucian world outlook is generally based on two questions: a person"s understanding about heaven, and people"s relationships with heaven. The significance of the human being is highly valued -- even as great as heaven and earth are with one"s own efforts and creation. The emphasis of Confucianism is to explore the heavenly part of human nature to follow the codes of universe.
Social philosophy is the most treasured part of Confucian theory. To design and build an ideal human society is the most primitive concern of Confucianism. Important thinkers like Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi all have systematic views about society, politics, economy, and ethics.
The structure of Confucian social philosophy is very well organized. Political system, administrative principles like policies of benevolence, light taxes, and ruling by rites are very representative views in traditional Confucian thoughts. The study of Confucius classics during the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) gave birth to the social system designed in accordance with the Confucius theories.
To build an ideal society, the family relationship is an essential part of thinking, thus the doctrine of filial piety is the cornerstone of all ethics in The Analects of Confucius.
At last, the book Yi Zhuan, an annotation of The Book of Changes, provides the knowledge foundation of conducting oneself in the society, especially when various ethics contradict with each other.
Primitive Confucianism was inherited from traditional Chinese thoughts in remote antiquity with its emphasis on the maintenance of the nation and social order and self-cultivation. The social philosophical ideals of the Zhou Dynasty (about 11th Century-221BC) are the fundamental base of Confucius values.
Confucianism is the most important in Chinese philosophy. Roughly speaking, Chinese civilization could be well represented by Confucian culture. The political philosophies, family codes of Chinese civilization system are basically based on those of Confucianism. As a result, the public policies and the interpersonal relationship ethics of Confucianism represent the main body of Chinese civilization.