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The obscured and only very partially developed moral consciousness of savage nations lies outside of the field of history;1919 Gesch. des Heident., i, p. 40 sqq., p. 163 sqq. the more tender consciousness of the half-civilized nations, especially of the Peruvians and Mexicans—the former of whom especially developed social morality to a degree of one-sided maturity,2020 Ibid., 251 sqq., 303 sqq.—appears rather as potent custom than as a clearly self-conscious consciousness. The very definitely and detailedly developed moral consciousness of the Chinese, as expressed in numerous and in part sacred-esteemed writings, is devoid of higher ideas, 44and is rather merely soberly empirical, purely political, and directed predominantly only to outward purposes. The essence of this morality is an effortless conformance to an eternally-changeless world-order, a remaining in the just middle-course; there is no consciousness of a forfeited perfection of the human race, nor of a perfection yet morally to be attained to. There is pre-supposed the unclouded goodness of human nature, the entire agreement of the ideal and of reality. There is no call for a sanctifying of an unholy reality,—there needs only that the individual existence of man be modeled upon pure human patterns, and conformed to never entirely erroneous, and always uniform common custom. The bright point in Chinese morality is obedience, in the family and in the State; its ground-character is passive persistence in the constantly homogeneous, goal-less movement of the universe,—a steady pulse-beat the significance of which lies not in the goal, but in the movement itself.
The Chinese, whose religious views constitute a barren and tale, but clear and consequential Naturalism, have special interest for moral life-rules; the ancient books of their religion, the Kings, which were collected and digested by Confucius in the sixth century before Christ, contain in the main simply a very detailed system of morals; so also nearly all their later religious, philosophical, and historical writings.
The life of the All bears every-where, even in its spiritual phase, a nature-character; there is no history with a spiritual goal to be attained to by moral activity, but only a nature-course with a constantly uniform character manifesting itself in constant, unvaried repetition; morality looks not forward, but simply backward to that which has been and will always remain as it is, and all reformatory action upon an occasionally somewhat deteriorated present is but a mere return to, the previous better. Instead of progress the goal of moral effort is uniformly simply a conserving, or a return to the past. There is no ideal 45yet to be reached, but the ideal has already always existed, and has never suffered but slight becloudings; humanity is already perfect from the very beginning, without history and without development; morality never looks to the creating of something which has not already been,—at best aims only at remedying a slight but never deeply seated disorder. Good is not that which in the nature of things ought first to become, but that which already is from the beginning; the highest good is not a goal and end, but it is that itself which eternally is; man has and enjoys it as already given from the start; it is the Paradise into which he is placed by nature herself, and which he has never really lost,—at the worst, only a few thorns and thistles have insinuated themselves into it, which however can only render the Paradisaical life of the “Celestial Kingdom” only a little more incommodious, for man, but not by any means banish him out of it, and in fact are very readily to be got rid of. The stream of world-history flows on of itself without the co-operation of man; man has simply to yield himself to it, to adapt himself unresistingly to the eternally-unvarying order of the world, to join himself, as a passively revolved wheel, into the constantly uniform-moving clock-work. Hence morality has no high goal, but requires only repose and order, and a passive submission to the minutely-tutorial civil law and to the equally valid laws of custom; there is no violent struggle, but only a quiet persisting and laboring. The highest symbol of morality is the natural sky, with its eternally-unvarying orderly revolution. As the real world is the mutual interpenetration of the two primitive principles, heaven and earth, and the equilibrium and mean between the two, so consists also morality in the preserving of equilibrium, in the observing of the just mean; the middle way is always the best. Hence ethics is by no means rigid and severe,—aims not at high reality-transcending ideals, is of a mild gentle nature, sober, practical, temperate, without high inspiration; it requires of man scarcely any thing which could be difficult to him, or which would involve much self-denial; he is not required to divest himself of his natural character, but has only to observe measure in all things. Man, that is, of course, only the Chinaman, is consequently already capacitated by nature to fulfill perfectly all the requirements of morality, and there are in fact also absolutely perfect, sinless 46men. Virtue is of easy practice, for it is the natural expression of the soul-life, and has not to contend against any evil rooted in the heart, and it meets in fact with no actual hostility to itself in the world; it awakens not displeasure, but always love, esteem, and honor; for mankind is in fact generally and, as a whole, good; actual evil is always a mere exception; the gate is wide, and the way is broad which leads to life, and many are those who walk upon it.
As being a mere expression of general, natural world-order, morality stands in direct connection with the course of nature. The observance of the just mean preserves equilibrium in the All, and every disturbance of this equilibrium by sin re-echoes through the whole, and effects, directly, disturbances in nature, especially when the offending one is the vicegerent of heaven, the emperor,—who is called by his very office to the presenting of a moral ideal, of a pattern of virtue. Drought, famine, inundations, pestilence, and the like, are not so much positively inflicted punishments of a personally-ruling God, as rather direct natural consequences of the sins of the emperor, and of the people as imitating him. Instead of an historical connection and an historical working of sin upon coming generations, as in the Christian world-theory, there is here a natural connection and a natural working of sin upon contemporary nature and the contemporary generation. This naturalistic parallel to the Christian doctrine of inherited sin, has a deeply earnest significancy. Man in his moral activity has to do not merely with himself, but with the totality of the universe; by sinning, he disturbs the order and the harmony of existence in general; every sin is an outrage against the All, and consequently also against the highest manifestation thereof, namely, the Middle Kingdom; all sins are crimes, all are hurtful to the public weal; in the Chinese view nature suffers by sin; in the Christian, history.
The focus of the moral life is the family; in it manifests itself directly the divine life,—which consists in the antithesis of the male or active and of the female or passive, in heaven-force and earth-material, and in the union of the two. The family life is a living worship of God, and the family duties are the highest, and have the unconditional precedence of all others; to the obedience of children to parents all other obedience must give way. What heaven is for the world, that the father is for 47the children, and reverence toward parents is a religious virtue. Hence marriage is a moral duty from which no virtuous man can excuse himself; the celibate interrupts the ranks of the famnily and commits an outrage on his ancestors.
But the full realization of morality appears in the state, which is simply the all-sidedly developed family. The emperor, as the son and vicegerent of heaven not governing arbitrarily but by eternally valid heavenly laws, is the father and teacher of the people,—not merely protecting right, but also, as a pattern of virtue, guiding and conserving the morality of the people. In China every thing is the State, and the State is everything; it is the great ocean into which all the streams of the spirit-life ultimate, and morality itself stands absolutely under the guardianship of the State. Not as man, but only as a citizen of the State and a member of the family, has the Chinaman a moral life; all morality is accomplished by obedience to the laws of the State; and between civil and moral law there is no distinction.
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