Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Main Concepts of Confucianism
Abstract: The main concepts of Confucianism are discussed. IV. Main Concepts of Confucianism: the twin concepts of jen and li are often said to constitute the basis of Confucianism.
A. Jen (wren): human heartedness; goodness; benevolence, man-to-man-ness; what makes man distinctively human (that which gives human beings their humanity).
1. The virtue of virtues; Confucius said he never really saw it full expressed. The other virtues follow from it. He never gives and defends a definition of it although he does characterize it.
2. It is dearer than life itself--the man of jen will sacrifice his life to preserve jen, and conversely it is what makes life worth living.
3. Jen is a sense for the dignity of human life--a feeling of humanity towards others and self-esteem for yourself.
a. Such feeling applies to all men--not just one nation or race. It is the foundation of all human relationships.
b. There is the belief that jen can be obtained; indeed, there is the belief in the natural perfectibility of man. Hence, he rejects the way of human action where one satisfies likes and avoids dislikes.
c. The first principle of Confucianism is to act according to jen: it is the ultimate guide to human action.
4. We should seek to extend jen to others.
B. Li (lee): principle of gain, benefit, order, propriety; concrete guide to human action.
1. Two basic meanings to li: (1) concrete guide to human relationships or rules of proper action that genuinely embody jen and (2) general principle of social order or the general ordering of life.
2. Confucius recognized that you need a well ordered society for wren to be expressed.
3. First Sense: the concrete guide to human relationships.
a. The way things should be done or propriety: positive rather than negative ("Do's rather than Don'ts).
b. The main components of proprietyemphasize the openness of people to each other.
(1) The reification of names: language used in accordance with the truth of things.
(2) The Doctrine of the Mean: so important that an entire book is dedicated to it in the Confucian canon: the proper action is the way between the extremes.
(3) The Five Relationships: the way things should be done in social life; none of the relationships are transitive. (Note that 3 of the 5 relations involve family; the family is the basic unit of society).
(a) father and son (loving / reverential)
(b) elder brother and younger brother (gentle / respectful)
(c) husband and wife (good / listening)
(d) older friend and younger friend (considerate / deferential)
(e) ruler and subject (benevolent / loyal)
(4) Respect for age: age gives all things their worth: objects, institutions, and individual lives.
4. Second Sense of li: principle of social order; ritual; ordering of life; conforming to the norms of jen (the limits and authenticity of li).
a. Every action affects someone else--there are limits to individuality.
b. Confucius sought to order an entire way of life.
c. You shouldn't be left to improvise your responses because you are at a loss as to how to behave.
d. A. N. Whitehead's quotation of a Cambridge vicar: "For well-conducted people, life presents no problems."
C. Yi (yee); righteousness; the moral disposition to do good (also a necessary condition for jen or for the superior man).
1. Yi connotes a moral sense: the ability to recognize what is right and good; the ability to feel, under the circumstances what is the right thing to do.
a. Not chih, moral wisdom per se, butintuition.
b. Most of us live under the sway of different kinds of "I's." In this case, the identification is with an impersonal ego. (In Freudian terms, almost like the super-ego.)
c. The impersonal ego is the assimilated...
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