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Humanism - Chinese Conception of - Underlying Beliefs, Achieving Ren, The Beliefs Of Mencius, Contemporary Revival Of Confucianism, Bibliography

person humanity virtue term

The dominant Chinese conception of humanism is the Confucian theory of ren. The term ren has been translated in various ways, including as "benevolence," "goodness," "virtue," "humanity," "humanness," and "being authoritative." These different translations indicate the complexity of this Confucian theory.

In introducing ren as the central notion of his philosophy, Confucius (551–479 B.C.E.) takes it both as a general ethical quality and as a particular one. As a particular ethical quality, the term means "to love one's fellow men" (Analects, 12:22). "Benevolence" is an appropriate translation for capturing this sense of love and affection. Ren as benevolence is distinguished from other particular virtues, such as courage and knowledge, and can be conceived independently of them. More often, however, ren refers to a general dispositional state that embraces particular character traits such as knowledge, courage, filial piety, loyalty, respectfulness, tolerance, trustworthiness in word, and generosity. In this sense, ren is a virtue in its entirety or in its inclusiveness and has also been reasonably rendered or referred to as "virtue" or "complete virtue."

Ren as the dispositional state is based on what a human being is. Both the Doctrine of the Mean (chap. 20) and Mencius (7a: 16)—two texts that have been grouped together with the Analects (plus the Great Learning) as the four core Confucian classics—include the formula "Ren zhe ren ye," literally "to be ren is to be a man." This means that ren is the quality that makes a person a true person. It is for this reason that many translators choose "humanity" or "humanness" to render this term. Such a translation is essentially correct, and it effectively points out that the Confucian theory of ren is a form of humanism. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that, while both "humanity" and "humaneness" can refer to the in-born characteristic of a person, the notion of ren, although based on the special human characteristic, is a cultivated disposition, that is, humanity or humanness in its cultivated form. The theory of ren, then, is the combination of humanism and virtue ethics.

Confucius calls a person who possesses the character of ren, junzi (variously translated as "the gentleman," "the profound person," or "the exemplary person"). This term literally means "the lord's son" and refers to the aristocrats or feudal princes. Confucius shifts its meaning to "the man possessing noble human qualities." By doing so, he emphasizes that the good quality of human beings is not limited to one special class but is related to the humanity that all humans share in common. Simply put, because ren is what makes a person a person, junzi, a person of ren, is one who has fulfilled and manifested what is genuinely human.

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