, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 375-390

First online:

What to Do in an Unjust State?: On Confucius’s and Socrates’s Views on Political Duty

  • Tongdong BaiAffiliated withSchool of Philosophy, Fudan University Email author 

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Confucius argued for the centrality of the superior man’s political duty to his fellow human beings and to the state, while Socrates suggested that the superior man (the philosopher) may have no such political duty. However, Confucius also suggested that one not enter or stay—let alone save—a troubled state, while Socrates stayed in an unjust state, apparently fulfilling his political duty to the state by accepting an unjust verdict. In this essay, I will try to show how Confucius could solve these apparent contradictions. I will then examine the reasons Socrates directly and indirectly offers to resolve his seemingly conflicting positions in light of the discussion of the Confucian case. This article is a first step toward a deeper understanding of both Confucius and Socrates (Plato) by way of comparative studies, and of the general issue of a superior man’s political duty to a bad state.


Confucius Socrates Plato Political duty