Ancient History & Civilisation

4. The Way of the Higher Man

Another portrait of the sage—Elements of character—The Golden Rule

Wisdom, therefore, begins at home, and the foundation of society is a disciplined individual in a disciplined family. Confucius agreed with Goethe that self-development is the root of social development; and when Tsze-loo asked him, “What constitutes the Higher Man?” he replied, “The cultivation of himself with reverential care.”109 Here and there, throughout the dialogues, we find him putting together, piece by piece, his picture of the ideal man—a union of philosopher and saint producing the sage. The Superman of Confucius is composed of three virtues severally selected as supreme by Socrates, Nietzsche and Christ: intelligence, courage, and good will. “The Higher Man is anxious lest he should not get truth; he is not anxious lest poverty should come upon him. . . . He is catholic, not partisan. . . . He requires that in what he says there should be nothing inaccurate.”110 But he is no mere intellect, not merely a scholar or a lover of knowledge; he has character as well as intelligence. “Where the solid qualities are in excess of accomplishments, we have rusticity; where the accomplishments are in excess of the solid qualities, we have the manners of a clerk. When the accomplishments and solid qualities are equally blended, we then have the man of complete virtue.”111Intelligence is intellect with its feet on the earth.

The foundation of character is sincerity. “Is it not just an entire sincerity which marks the Higher Man?”112 “He acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according to his actions.”113 “In archery we have something like the way of the Higher Man. When the archer misses the center of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure in himself.”114 “What the Higher Man seeks is in himself; what the lower man seeks is in others. . . . The Higher Man is distressed by his want of ability, not . . . by men’s not knowing him”; and yet “he dislikes the thought of his name not being mentioned after his death.”115 He “is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions. . . . He seldom speaks; when he does he is sure to hit the point. . . . That wherein the Higher Man cannot be equaled is simply this: his work, which other men cannot see.”116 He is moderate in word and deed; in everything “the Higher Man conforms with the path of the mean.”117 For “there is no end of things by which man is affected; and when his likings and dislikings are not subject to regulation, he is changed into the nature of things as they come before him.”118* “The Higher Man moves so as to make his movements in all generations a universal path; he behaves so as to make his conduct in all generations a universal law; he speaks so as to make his words in all generations a universal norm.’120 He accepts completely the Golden Rule, which is here laid down explicitly four centuries before Hillel and five centuries before Christ: “Chung-kung asked about perfect virtue. The Master said, . . . ‘Not to do unto others as you would not wish done unto yourself.’122 The principle is stated again and again, always negatively, and once in a single word. “Tsze-kung asked, ‘Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?’ The Master said, ‘Is not reciprocity such a word?’”123 Nevertheless he did not wish, like Lao-tze, to return good for evil; and when one of his pupils asked him, “What do you say concerning the principle that injury should be recompensed with kindness?” he replied, more sharply than was his custom: “With what, then, will you recompense kindness? Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.”124

The very basis of the Higher Man’s character is an overflowing sympathy towards all men. He is not angered by the excellences of other men; when he sees men of worth he thinks of equaling them; when he sees men of low worth he turns inward and examines himself;124a for there are few faults that we do not share with our neighbors. He pays no attention to slander or violent speech.124b He is courteous and affable to all, but he does not gush forth indiscriminate praise.125 He treats his inferiors without contempt, and his superiors without seeking to court their favor.126 He is grave in deportment, since men will not take seriously one who is not serious with them; he is slow in words and earnest in conduct; he is not quick with his tongue, or given to clever repartee; he is earnest because he has work to do—and this is the secret of his unaffected dignity.127 He is courteous even to his familiars, but maintains his reserve towards all, even his son.128 Confucius sums up the qualities of his “Higher Man”—so similar to the Megalopsychos, or “Great-Minded Man,” of Aristotle—in these words:

The Higher Man has nine things which are subjects with him of thoughtful consideration. In regard to the use of his eyes he is anxious to see clearly. . . . In regard to his countenance he is anxious that it should be benign. In regard to his demeanor he is anxious that it should be respectful. In regard to his speech he is anxious that it should be sincere. In regard to his doing of business he is anxious that it should be reverently careful. In regard to what he doubts about, he is anxious to question others. When he is angry he thinks of the difficulties his anger may involve him in. When he sees gain to be got he thinks of righteousness.129

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