Confucianism and Taoism Philosophies

Different religions have different views on life. They emphasize on different things and influence people in different ways. Sometimes people make various choices depending on the religion they follow. It can be seen in China, where different religions co-exist. These religions are Confucianism and Taoism.

Interestingly, many people consider both Confucianism and Taoism to be not religions but philosophies. Truly, they differ greatly from such religions as Christianity, Islam or Judaism. The main divinities in these philosophies are nature, wisdom and collected attitude toward life.

Although many people may find these religions to be very different, their differences make them complementary. Each philosophy possesses something that the other one does not. Thus, it is interesting to see what each of the philosophies can give to the other one.

First of all, both philosophies were created by people and for people. Confucianism and Taoism are intended to help people choose the right priorities and directions in life.

While analyzing Taoism, it is easy to see how this philosophy influences people's lives. According to Tao Te Ching, nature is the key force of the planet (Lao Tzu, 1993). This philosophy centers on Tao, which is the path of life. This path is determined by natural forces and goes according to them. Ying and Yang as parts of natural harmony also play a big role in this philosophy. It does not center on certain god and focuses rather on the ways of achieving harmony in life. That is the reason that it is more of a philosophy than a religion.

Interestingly, one can hardly consider beliefs which are widespread in China to be religions. They are very different from religions which are common in Western world, and that is why it is hard for westerners to understand the moral and ethical systems of China. Taoism may be considered a philosophy, but its main 'opponent', Confucianism, is also a philosophy about choosing the right way of life.

One can see there complementation because Confucianism complements Taoism. Taoism is about natural flow of life. Everything goes according to the natural force; nothing stops and ends in Taoism. Confucianism presents an absolutely different approach. It is based on the human wisdom, which comes from ancestors. Similarly to Taoism, Confucianism also focuses on the way of life, but in this case it is about man-made rules. Confucianism believes that the law is the main determinant of the state, society and human relations.

Thus, it can be said that both philosophies teach people about life but use different approaches to these teachings. Taoism concentrates on the nature, and Confucianism concentrates on the man-made laws and rules. Combination of these two philosophies creates a balanced unity because both a person and the nature are represented.

Taoism is also more about personal freedom and finding oneself. A person represents an inner process of unstoppable struggle and search for truth. He or she has to listen to the outside forces in order to understand the true meaning of life. Nature is the one that guides an individual, and that is why a person has to follow his or her instincts. Man-made laws and mores do not play a big part in this case since they are considered to be less important than the nature. Thus, this philosophy does not find society to be very significant. On the contrary, natural things are the ones that matter.

On the other hand, Confucianism concentrates on following norms and rules. The state is above everything else. People have to devote their lives to the state's well-being. They have to be patriots who care deeply about the country. Thus, nature and spiritualism move to the background while formal and official standards become determinant.

Confucianism finds perfection in the past. It worships ancestors and finds them to be moral leaders. Following beliefs of one's ancestors is considered to be a respected and dignifying thing. Confucianism believes in strong leader. It finds it essential for people to trust that leader in order for him to rule the state effectively. Leadership skills and wisdom are the qualities that determine who may take the role of the leader.

For example, Confucianism divides people in categories. There are those who were born with 'natural wisdom'. They are more likely to get high positions in the state structure. There are also those who have some flaws, but are still guided by wisdom and duty. There are people who do not possess natural wisdom, but try to act according to the duty because of personal motives. At last, there are also people who have nor wisdom neither responsibility before the country. They are considered to be the worst kind of all. Such qualification of people shows a huge devotion to traditions and rituals. It also shows the common way of thinking, when people do not think of themselves as individuals, but as part of the group. In this case, traditions and heritage play the biggest role because they often influence a person's status in society. It may seem like a negative thing, but Confucianism also focuses on patriotism and the necessity to be good citizen. People have to act and behave in such a way, so that the state may benefit from their actions. Thus, this philosophy is strongly integrated into political life and may even be viewed as a political doctrine.

Such analysis allows to see what Confucianism is all about. Taoism, on the other hand, is absolutely different. It is about being the one with nature and freeing oneself. According to Tao Te Ching, everything goes according to the nature, and people play a little role in determining the processes which are happening around them. Governments change, but nature is constant; which is why it is a greater authority than anything created by people.

Comparing these views, one may think that Taoism and Confucianism are completely different and can never co-exist. Nevertheless, it is not like that. An amazing complementation is present here as well because Taoism and Confucianism combine moral and legal systems. They unite emotions and obligations. Taoism creates a person who is willing to explore himself or herself as well as the world around. Confucianism creates a workaholic who obeys traditions and laws. Combining these traits, a person can balance both social life and ways to understand himself or herself. Thus, both philosophies add something to each other giving a person more options to lead harmonic life.

There are also Three Jewels of Taoism, which are compassion, moderation, and humility (Lao Tsu, 1993). Tao Te Ching provides many examples of these characteristics. According to them, compassion is the main path to become brave and courageous. Moderation leads to the generosity, and humanity causes leadership. Confucianism, on the other hand, pays more attention as to how develop a good citizen. It emphasizes on the duties and responsibilities, which lead to devotion and hard work. Thus, one philosophy tends to focus on emotional aspects of human personality, while the other one is interested in logic and rationales behind people's actions.

These examples show that these two philosophies, or religions, as they may be considered by some, are very different, but these differences complement each other. They focus on different aspects of people's lives turning them into certain directions. It may be said that philosophies agree on the fundamental level. They want to find the best solutions for people and fill their lives with sense and reason. Nevertheless, the philosophies differ on methodological level. They use different approaches, and that determines their core difference. Nevertheless, both approaches can be easily combined. One philosophy emphasizes on certain things, while the other philosophy focuses on the different ones. It makes it easy to unite different accents in order to create a well-balanced system of beliefs which may be used by a follower.


Lao, Tsu (1993). Tao Te Ching. (S. Addiss & S. Lombardo, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Hackett Publishing Co, Inc.