Confucianism in general is borne out by the regression that took place over the centuries. It may be characterized as follows:
- The idea of the unknowable One is transformed into metaphysical indifference. When Confucius declines to think about the absolute or to pray for help, it is because a certainty rooted in the Encompassing enjoins him to turn to mankind in the actual world. By living in serene acceptance of death, not asking to know what we cannot know, he leaves everything open. But once Confucius’ certainty is lacking, skepticism runs rampant and with it an uncontrolled superstition. Agnosticism becomes a vacuum, which Confucianism seeks to fill with material magic and illusionary expectations.
- Confucius’ simple but passionate drive toward humanity is transformed into utilitarian thinking. The result is a pedantic pragmatism shorn of any feeling for man’s independent worth.
- The free ethos, implied by the polarity between the li and the power that guides them, is transformed into a dogmatization of the li. Without their ground in the jen and in the One, the li become mere rules of external behavior.
- Openness of thought degenerates into dogmatic theory. For example, a controversy arises as to whether man is good or evil by nature, whether training in the li makes man good or only restores him to his true nature.
- The knowledge that was inner action degenerates into rote learning. There arose the class of scribes who distinguished themselves not by personality but by formal learning and maintained their prestige by a system of examinations. For Confucius antiquity was a norm which each man must acquire for himself. As transformed in Confucianism, this came to mean the study of ancient works, the pre-eminence of the scholar; instead of making antiquity his own, the student learned to imitate it. School learning produced an orthodoxy which lost its bond with life as a whole.