Legalism: Ends and Means
World History, 9
“The ends justify the means.”
“For that reason, [if] a prince have the credit
of conquering and holding his state, the
means will always be considered honest,
and he will be praised by everybody…”
✔ In terms of historical context, what did Legalism have
in common with Confucianism?
✔ In terms of ends, what did Legalism have in common
Key Legalist Concept I:
View of Human Nature
• What was the Confucian view of human nature?
What were the means of Confucianism?
How would these means be implemented?
What view of human nature is revealed by Confucian means?
•What appears to be the Legalist view of human nature?
PEOPLE ARE INHERENTLY BAD AND DRIVEN BY
Historically, on what was this view of human nature based?
Key Legalist Concepts II: Means
Rejection of Confucian Morality (Goodness)
1. Legalists believed that morality was
based on selﬁsh, individual motives
2. Filial piety undermines a
powerful military structure
How could Confucian morality be
used for selﬁsh gain?
– Why would this be true?
Instills a sense of shame so that
you won’t dishonor law and
–Useless to try to educate people in
morality; they’ll just be selﬁsh
Key Legalist Concepts III: Means
The Concept of Law
✔ Stability required rule by law
and a powerful state
Legalists emphasized the
– According to Legalists, what
importance of harsh and
did the establishment and
maintenance of a strong state
inﬂexible law enforced by a
and rule by law require?
powerful ruler as the only
✔ Ruler considered the
cornerstone of means of achieving an
✔ Ruler->rule by law-> prosperous society
The Basics of Legalism
1.Humans are inherently evil and driven by
2.Confucian morality does not work to
establish and maintain order
3.Strict laws and harsh punishments are
necessary to create and maintain order.
Shih Huang Ti is #17 in
Michael Hart s The 100.
What argument does
Hart make to justify Shih
What steps were
taken by Shih Huang
Ti to unify and
return peace, order,
and stability to
Do the ends
laws and harsh
Which view on human
nature is correct-the Confucian view
that people are
innately good or the
Legalist view that
humans are evil and
driven by selfish
17, Shih Huang Ti
from The 100 by Michael Hart
The great Chinese emperor Shih Huang Ti, who ruled from 238-210BC, united China by force of arms
and instituted a set of sweeping reforms. These reforms have been a major factor in the cultural unity that
China has maintained ever since.
Shih Huang Ti (also known as Ch’in) was born in 259BC and died in 210BC. To understand his
importance, it is necessary to have some knowledge of the historical background of his times. He was born
in the ﬁnal years of the Chou Dynasty, which had been founded about 1100BC. Centuries before his time,
however, the Chou monarchs had ceased to be effective rulers, and China had become divided into a large
number of feudal states.
The various feudal lords were constantly at war with one another, and gradually, several of the smaller
rulers were eliminated. One of the most powerful of the warring states was Ch’in, in the western portion of
the country. The Ch’in rulers had adopted ideas of the Legalist school of Chinese philosophers; this was
the basis of state policy. Confucius had suggested that men should be governed primarily by moral example
of a good ruler; but according to the Legalist philosophy, most men were not good enough to be ruled in
that way and could only be controlled by a strict set of laws ﬁrmly established and impartially enforced.
Laws were made by the ruler and could be changed at his pleasure to further state policy.
Possibly because of their adoption of Legalist ideas, possibly because of their geographical position, or
possibly because of the capability of the Ch’in rulers, that state had already become the most powerful of
the Chinese states at the time that Cheng (the future Shih Huang Ti) was born. Nominally, Cheng ascended
the throne in 246BC at the age of thirteen but in fact, a regent governed until Cheng came of age in 238BC.
The new monarch chose able generals and vigorously prosecuted the wars against the remaining feudal
states. The last of these were conquered in 221BC, and he could now have declared himself Wang (king) of
all China. To emphasize, however, the complete break he was making with the past, he chose a new titles,
and called himself “Shih Huang Ti”, which means “the ﬁrst emperor”.