Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus: From The Great Philosophers, Volume I by Karl Jaspers

Posted: February 25, 2010 in Book Notes

Socrates (469-399 B.C.)

  • Conversation, dialogue, is necessary for the truth itself, which by its very nature opens up to an individual only in dialogue with another individual.
  • Socrates does not hand down wisdom but makes the other find it.

Buddha (560-480 B.C.)

  • Buddhism is the the religion of humanity.
  • Seek salvation alone in the truth. All accomplishment is transient. Strive unremittingly.
  • According to Buddha’s teaching, it is not prayer, not grace, and not sacrifice that brings redemption, but only knowledge.
  • Redemption by insight – the right knowledge is in itself redemption.
  • Meditation’s universal imperative – let nothing lie dormant in the unconscious, wreaking its havoc; let perfect wakefulness accompany all your action and experience.
  • To master the pride of defiant selfhood, that in truth is the highest bliss.
  • The world is left as it is. Buddha passes through it with no thought of a reform for all. He teaches men to free themselves from it, not to change it. “As a lovely white lotus blossom is not stained by water, so I am not stained by the world.”
  • A man is not what he just happens to be; he is open. For him, there is no one correct solution.

Confucius (551-479 B.C.)

  • Confucius’ basic idea: the renewal of antiquity.
  • This way of looking at the old was itself something new. Past realities are transformed by present reflection.
  • Without learning, all other virtues are obscured as though by a bog and degenerate: without learning, frankness becomes vulgarity; bravery, disobedience; firmness, eccentricity; humanity, stupidity; wisdom, flightiness; sincerity, a plague.
  • The superior man is concerned with justice, the inferior man with profit. The superior man is quite and serene, the inferior man is always full of anxiety. the superior man is congenial though never stooping to vulgarity; the inferior man is vulgar without being congenial. The superior man is dignified without arrogance; the inferior man is arrogant without dignity. The superior man is steadfast in distress; the inferior man in distress loses all control of himself. The superior man goes searching in himself; the inferior man goes searching in others. The superior man strives upward; the inferior man strives downward. The superior man is independent. He can ensure long misfortune as well as long prosperity, and he lives free from fear. He suffers from his own inability, not from others’ failure to understand him. He avoids all competition, but if it must be, then only in archery. He is slow in words and quick in action. he is careful not to let his words outshine his deeds: first act, then speak accordingly. The superior man does not waste himself on what is distant, on what is absent. He stands in the here and now, in the real situation. The superior man’s path is like a long journey; you must begin from right here. The superior man’s path begins with the concerns of the common man and woman, but it reaches into the distance, penetrating heaven and earth.
  • The superior man is not absolutely for or against anything in the world. He supports only what is right.
  • Do to no one what you would not wish others do to you.


  • Jesus preaches not knowledge but faith. His meaning remains veiled for the unbelievers; to the believer it is revealed. The essence of faith is freedom.
  • The idea of God is subject to no condition, but the norms it imposes subject everything else to their condition. It gives knowledge of the simple ground of all things.

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