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Confucian Ethics-Based Teaching in Critical Thinking in the Philippines: Repressively Constraint-Based, Counterintuitive

Regel Q. Javines
Master of Arts in Philosophy Student
Department of Philosophy, University of San Carlos – Talamban Campus,
Nasipit, Cebu City

(Editor’s Note: This is a reaction paper about the lecture on “Confucian Ethics and Teaching Critical Thinking” submitted by the student. Hence, the Philippine Pundit and the author assume no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content. The views and opinions expressed in this article are of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Philippine Pundit. Furthermore, views and philosophical perspectives expressed therein are on “as is” basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness or timeliness. Thus, any opposing views or perspectives are encouraged. In the spirit of Philosophy and philosophizing, everything is worth questioning.)

Introduction

Confucianism’s philosophy lies at the heart of human virtues. It establishes standards of inner virtue and morality as guides to “living a peaceful life.” Propagated by Confucius in the 6th-5th BCE, Confucianism’s philosophy continued to be of remarkable influence primarily in China and particularly in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam (Weiming, 2022).

Over decades, the core purpose of philosophy has been dedicated to finding not only the barest of truth but also the very fabric of that truth—the ontological aspect and the how or epistemic subtleties of the what and why.

The progression in search of that purpose leads to reason and justification yet are still under constant bombardment of questions both ontological and epistemological from searching for further questions for answers to still being questioned at present and in the future.

Hence, sans profound intellectual understanding, philosophy’s “graceful exit” for every question of doubt and doubtful questions about reality, ethics, and morality is metaphysics—the cornerstone of what cannot be explained can be silently explained.

The statue of Confucius, in which Confucian ethics is derived from his philosophy and teaching.
A statue of Confucius (Kongzi) in the Confucian Temple in Beijing by David Morrow, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hence, if you were to ask Confucius in this modern time about how good are good virtues, how bad is bad, or what is the promise, the guarantee that human virtues are absolute and infallible to make it a standard, the must-go-to principle when X and Y simultaneously intersect themselves, on their own. Confucius would plausibly take refuge under a self-bannered metacognition resulting in a lack of intelligent insight.

That is why critical thinking must be taught under no standard principle or approach or philosophical underpinning for doing so is killing cognitive liberty in toto resulting in forms of tyranny. Look at China (China File, 2012) and other east-Asian countries where Confucianism’s philosophy is as rich as their cultures.

As advanced as critical thinking to as ancient as Confucian ethics is considered, it is proposed that Confucian be considered as justification in teaching critical thinking in the Philippines. Had done it before, accordingly, it would have gone one better.

This paper attempts to set a critical tone on the proposal to rather consider the Confucianism approach as an underlying principle in teaching critical thinking.

From the concluding part of the proposal:

…I have proposed that perspective from Confucian ethics or Confucianism be given consideration in the justification of teaching CT [critical thinking] in the Philippines. (Emphasis is mine.)

At first, the proposal attempts to elucidate the basis claiming that it seeks ground on Karyn Lai’s skills-based Confucian ethics.

Furthermore, in the same reference, the proposal submits itself to a belief that Confucianism’s philosophy yields a “better reason” for teaching critical thinking in the Philippines. It claims, “It is my belief that perhaps a non-Western, East-Asian perspective would provide a supplemental if not better reason for teaching CT.”

What the proposal intends to draw will likely:

  • make teaching critical thinking a repressively constraint-based approach and counterintuitive that instantaneously defeats the very foundation of what critical thinking upholds philosophically. Critical thinking, as Marquez puts it from the definition of Facione and Lai, is a:

Purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or conceptual considerations upon which that judgment is based” (Facione, 1990, p. 3 in Lai, 2011, p. 6) (Emphasis is mine);

  • undermine respect for students as a person, an individual with unique natures and outlook apart and distinct from the rest; and having self-expression of valuing process that centers on the purpose of existence based upon personal interpretation and evaluation; and
  • limit the parameter of valuing process, lacking intellectual insight, and in the worst-case scenario preposterous (excuse the word out of no other words to fit in the intended context). Ethical reasoning would not always bring common good results.

By criticizing the proposal as a (repressive) constraint-based approach, I will make it clear that it is no relevance to the theory of constraints by Goldratt’s conception in his 1984 novel. Thus, the constraint-based approach here does mean that the interpretation of premises in teaching critical thinking is based on the constraints or limitations that arise from Confucian ethics.

Analysis

While various sources and literature and schools of thought find the constraint-based approach effective in leadership, management, and business innovation (Acar, et al, 2019) (A. Lockamy, R. H. Draman, 1998), in the case of Confucian ethics-based teaching in critical thinking is a clear myopic approach rather than holistic.

Resorting to the Confucian ethics-based constraint unilaterally, it is impossible to arrive at a certain perspective of results that are considered integrated, multi-pronged studied, and comprehensively evaluated that could likely address issues outside moral-ethical interpretation.

Even if it is suggested to be only suppletory in nature, the entire core of assessments, the scrutinizing process, and the exploring paradigm toward the holistic view of an issue be rendered moot and academic since the supervening parameters and outlooks are nailed down to cast a limited view.

This scenario would eventually strike a chord of a repressive atmosphere of constricted intelligence arresting one’s expression of moral feelings and in the process producing an army of slaves of backwardness—not a cup of tea that critical thinking would like you to greet with.

For an instance, the issue of the sustainable landscape of a progressive economy is under scrutiny. Applying the philosophy of Confucian ethics to teach critical thinking would likely resolve to human-centered solutions: reverence, common good to humans, blah, blah while disrespecting animals’ rights, and other intervening factors that the whole environment and atmosphere above and below are nothing but specks of sacrificial lambs—lifeless. Disregarded.

Do you think the sustainability of the progress of an economy can be solely resolved by the Confucian moral-ethical construction of arguments centered on human life, ritual, and morality? If so, humans are the only consciousness of beings unmindful of what is above, below, and around. Unfortunately, the world runs not that way.

Confucian ethics is single-eyed—sees respect only for humans even if how cruel humans are while seeing only a negligible consideration for animals (Sleziak, 2021).

In another instance, to put it simply, youths are confronted by a moral crisis, a personal moral crisis. So simply perhaps when this type of issue is brought up before critical thinking exercises as part of the teaching process, students would likely draw insights into the constraints that are framed with the Confucian ethics perspective.

The scenario suggests that students are bound to interpret the moral crisis issue in the context of human-centered virtues. This also suggests that all points of view are constructed along the standard line of Confucianism’s philosophy that bluntly disregards other forms of life that directly affect the issue of the personal moral crisis.

Furthermore, the scenario also suggests that the Confucian golden rule of “Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you” at the very least prevails. This golden rule is defective. It can be likened to a sweetened poison.

As human beings are not designed to be governed by a single standard discipline, they are also not expected to come after a prescribed standard of ethical interpretation. Unless the interpretation serves the purpose of what they want others to do unto them, the prescribed ethical underpinning works; otherwise, either tyranny or tragedy progresses.

In other words, the Confucian golden rule could be the exact mirror of why China insulates tyranny with economic power, why Confucian ethics is so proud of the oppression of women and subjugating them and reducing them to second-class members of the household paradoxically mirroring the positive intended meaning of the Confucian golden rule.

While Confucian ethics is handicapped in other ethical issues that substantially defined the entire core of humanness of human beings, why consider its moral-ethical perspectives a justifying principle in teaching critical thinking? Isn’t it a shortsighted consideration? Or is there an unseen force promoting tyranny of ideas so useful in producing future citizens of slaves conditioned to live a make-believe peaceful life against the backdrop of philosophical indoctrination?

Conclusion

Critical thinking, as one form, is the only path toward one’s liberation—political, individual, economic, national, religious, or moral. The education system has to find pedagogical innovations to integrate critical thinking with the students’ core of learning. Devaluing it by prescriptive interference with the sectarian philosophy of standards leads to educational system dwarfism—educating minds to mold them to become stunted minds—brainwashed, acclimatized, conditioned, constricted minds like those minds inside Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Teaching critical thinking to come to fruition of its ultimate purpose should be taught in a manner like writing a free verse poem—no metrical insanities, no rhythmical nonsense, no rules. Why? Simply put, if you were going to fly to measure the breadth and the expanse of the universe and beyond, how would you do that when you are limited to even see the view a foot away from you?

Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” How would one pursue the questioning when the premise in question is framed by constraints? How would you know the other side of the veil if you only have to see the one side of the veil in which your perspective is nailed down? The questioning stops the moment you see the conditioned paradigm.

Furthermore, Confucius, also, once said, “Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

In critical thinking, a synergy between ideas and knowledge and the liberty of epistemological accompaniments of doing so defines the ultimate cost of thinking, searching, of philosophizing to bring knowledge into the light of learning. Confucius, himself, apparently admits it.

Finally, German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche attempted to imply in his Apollonian-Dionysian dichotomy that although the structured forms of logic and reason are necessary for rationality, the anomalous, chaotic side of us is equally important.

Critical thinking is considered multiverse exhausting all points of view to arrive at the most desirable results. Making it limited and repressively constraint-based by teaching it in a course that revolves around the structured form of Confucian ethics is an instant demise of its ultimate purpose.

Furthermore, to consider limiting the perspective of questioning to a prescribed justification that dances along the tune of Confucian ethics is decisively counterintuitive that bluntly constricts the liberty of evaluating points of view.

Moreover, giving in to a belief and alibis that the Western context in teaching critical thinking as a colonial state of thinking is an outright farce. It neither follows the structured form of logic by cause-and-effect paradigm, nor does it conform to the moral-ethical value perspective in general. Why? Doing so is stereotyping and is a defeatist mindset contrary to what critical thinking is best viewed at, not to mention the ineffectiveness of Confucian ethics in curbing human rights violations happening in actuality.

Finally, in subtlety while engaging in critical thinking activity, no one feels good to be conditioned in a controlled paradigm having a predefined structure of moral-ethical standards—a lab rat thinking, do you?

References:

Acar, Oguz, et al. (2019, November 22). Why Constraints Are Good for Innovation. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/11/why-constraints-are-good-for-innovation

China File. (2012, February 8). He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny. ChinaFile. https://www.chinafile.com/library/nyrb-china-archive/he-told-truth-about-chinas-tyranny

Lockamy, A., Draman, R.H. (1998). A Constraint-Based Methodology for Effective Supply Chain Management. In: Bititci, U.S., Carrie, A.S. (eds) Strategic Management of the Manufacturing Value Chain. IFIP — The International Federation for Information Processing, vol 2. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-35321-0_38

Marquez, Leander. (2017). Critical Thinking in Philippine Education: What We Have and What We Need. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies. http://www.jceps.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/15-2-10.pdf

Sleziak, Tomasz. (2021, November 27). COP, Confucius and the Rights of Animals. Oxford House Research, Ltd. https://www.oxfordhouseresearch.com/cop-confucius-and-the-rights-of-animals/

Villaver, Ranie. (2022, October 29). Confucian Ethics and Teaching Critical Thinking. Zoom lecture.

Weiming, Tu. (2022, August 26). Confucianism. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Confucianism

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