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Dialogues Across Civilization
« on: November 03, 2007, 02:21:50 PM »
From reading Roxann Prazniak’s Dialogue Across Civilizations, the revolving main themes being discussed were the philosophies of Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher, and those Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher. Though the Greeks were literally around the other side of the world and had no direct emissaries to the Chinese during the Hellenistic period, it was rather interesting to see that Socrates and Confucius both shared in the idea of social order. It was through this system of social order that a political state was to remain stable and long lasting; Confucius, as what Prazniak discusses in the book, stresses the concept of filial piety as the way in keeping the social order in balance. By this, the children pay their obeisance to their parents, the same way as the people pay their obeisance to the municipal and government officials, and the same way as officials pay their obeisance to the Emperor. Through this process, the system of social order was stressed in that there was the upper echelon of society, which was His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of China and his royal retinue. Then there were the educated gentry who constituted government and below them were the peasants. This was quite similar to that of Socrates’ vision of a perfect state where there were the philosopher kings in the upper echelon, below them were the guardians and below them were the workers.

   In a way it is rather interesting to see that these two civilizations, which were thousands of miles apart with different linguistic forms as well as political and religious establishments, had philosophers such as Socrates and Confucius who both strived for idealistically similar concepts. As what Prazniak stated in the book Dialogues Across Civilizations, the philosopher Socrates was not that popular after his death and did not really influence the many Greek city states of Athens, Ithica, Sparta and the likes because the leaders of these city states did not completely adopt the teachings of Socrates after his death, unlike that of China where later dynasties codified the use of Confucius’ teachings and the unification of China under the Han, Tang, Ming and Qing dynasties. One major issue that puzzled me was that why did the Chinese lords refused to take Confucius’ council when he was still alive? And Why was Confucius’ teachings so popular after he was dead?  Throughout the lectures in class, there was clear discussion in how the Japanese society adopted the teachings of Confucius to that of the indigenous folk religion of Shinto. How did the religion of Shinto develop and is it related to the earlier animistic religions of Korea prior to Chinese superfluance in that region?

   From reading Prazniak’s Dialogue Across Civilizations, I realized that there really was no major flaw besides the fact that Prazniak was very broad when describing the philosophical teachings of Socrates, and didn’t really go into deeper detail with the comparison with Socrates’ vision of a perfect state and that of Confucius’s idea of a perfect state. The only comparison that they had was in the end of page 25 and page 26 and of which was rather brief. I would have rather liked it better of Prazniak discussed the kinds of teaching methods that Socrates utilized and his personal influence of the political discourse of the Greek city of Athens during the reign of the 30 oligarchs, who were his former students, but eventually became the autocratic rulers that showed no sage-like qualities that Socrates’ stressed about. Nor does Prazniak talk about the different schools of thought that Confucius created during his life nor does the author talk that there were over 2,000 student followers of Confucius during his life. I would have liked it better if there were comparison to other European philosophers such as the Roman political philosopher named Virgil, who also lived during the classical age of continental Europe. One thing that I was quite disappointed was the fact that Prazniak really didn’t discuss how Socrates affected European societies centuries after his death or if his teachings were in use at all. Prazniak also didn’t discuss about the formation of a national identity and how both Confucius and Socrates influenced or didn’t influence the formation of political discourse of nation states. Clearly we know that Confucius’ teachings were nationalized by the time honored Han dynasty and became the central theme of the prevailing Chinese dynasties from the Han, to the Tang to the Yuan to the Ming and to the Qing. However, Prazniak never discussed whether or not Socrates’ teachings affected the formation of the Roman Republic, the Parthian states, the Etruscan State and the surrounding peripheral states of Greece.


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