The Analects of Confucius and the Tao Te Ching, although similar in their intent, deliver different aspects of what is the ultimate good in life as well as how to reach that good. Confucius takes a more active view in order to acquire “jen” or good through knowledge, justice and obedience. Lao-Tzu prefers a subtle approach to life in striving for self-contentment. They also differ on the role the government should play in a person’s quest for goodness. These differences create opposing views on what is the true meaning of goodness.
Confucius’ fundamental goal is a society that promotes goodness. From this society, individual goodness will inevitably follow. In order to reach this good, he feels that one must be active in educating herself and acting as a teacher towards others:
“Tzu-kung said, If a ruler not only conferred wide benefits upon the common people, but also compassed the salvation of the whole State, what would you say of him? Surely you would call him Good? The Master said, It would no longer be a matter of ‘Good.’ He would without a doubt be a divine Sage” (122).
Confucius believes that a leader who can instill goodness among her people will subsequently achieve a God-like status, and in fact surpass good. Lao-Tzu, on the other hand, believes that the ultimate good comes from being content with yourself. This satisfaction is achieved by not acting, or “wu-wei”, and focusing instead, on bettering yourself through reflection. “Therefore the Sage is devoted to non-action, Moves without teaching, Creates ten thousand things without instruction” (2). The Tao does not place nearly as much importance on teaching through action. Lao-Tzu finds it more rewarding to move through life accepting the situations that are placed in front of you and growing from those experiences. Confucius differs from this approach and promotes active learning in book eight, analect 17 in which