Confucian Philosophy

Topics: Confucianism, Chinese philosophy, Confucius Pages: 2 (560 words) Published: October 13, 2013
In the Analects, ren could refer to one desirable quality among others (14.28) but often also the all encompassing ethical ideal (14.4). In the latter, broader sense, it is the defining characteristic of the junzi (4.5), even more important than life (15.9), and “the benevolent person” is sometimes interchangeable with junzi (12.4, 14.28). This broad sense of ren can be understood as the moralization of an earlier, pre-Confucian usage where the term refers to the quality that makes someone a member of a aristocratic clan, something like nobility. Now, considering that the Zhou ruling elite was a chariot riding, bow wielding warrior aristocracy, it’s not beyond possibility that ren in its ancient usage means something like manliness. Ren in its narrower sense (where it refers to one desirable quality among others; 14.28) is akin to affective concern for other people, or perhaps more accurately, the kindness that rulers are expected to show to their subjects. This is sense that is captured in Analects 12.22, which also makes clear the political dimension of the quality (see also 1.5, 2.19). Within the Analects, this aspect of ren as a particular virtue is further developed in its association with what we might call empathy, or in the words of one scholar, ”…the capacity to feel with the feelings of others, to see with the seeing of others, and to think with the thinking of others” (see 12.2, 4.15, 6.30 and 15.24).

(The distinction between the broader and narrower sense of ren is captured in some translations. Simon Leys, for instance, renders ren “goodness” in 1.3 but “humanity” in 12.22; James Legge has “True Virtue” for the first, and “benevolence” for the second. And in Yang Bojun’s modern Chinese translation, it is “仁德” in the former but just “仁” in the latter.)

On to li. In some passages, the term refers to Ritual or the Rites, i.e., the traditional rules and practices that governed the social, political and religious doings of the early Zhou elite. In a...
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