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Chinese Conception ofAchieving Ren

How, then, does one achieve ren? Confucius's first reply is that to achieve ren is "to return to li" (Analects, 12:1). Li refers to the traditional ritual and cultural practices, fully developed in China's early Zhou dynasty (founded in the eleventh century B.C.E.). Its core is a humane social hierarchy modeled on family relationships. "Let the ruler a ruler, the subject a subject, the father a father, the son a son" (12:11). "To return to li" means to be shaped or transformed by traditional values. Moreover, to be a person of ren also involves an emotional aspect. According to Confucius, to be ren means to "love your fellow men" (12:22). The love is based on one's filial love for parents and brothers and is extended to all human beings (1:2, 1:6). Furthermore, ren involves an intellectual aspect: "The Master said, 'In his dealings with the world the gentleman is not invariably for or against anything. He is on the side of what is appropriate [ yi ]'" (4:10). This intellectual aspect enables a Confucian agent to avoid following traditional values blindly.

The cultivation of ren is not an isolated process. The path toward human realization goes through family, community, tradition, state, and even the whole world. To promote human realization, the Confucian school teaches, in addition to the classics that record traditional values, six arts in its curriculum: ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and arithmetic. To a great extent, this corresponds to the Renaissance studia humanitatis.

Because Confucius's ethics has a metaphysical basis—that ren is the manifestation of Heaven's dao in a human being—it presupposes that humans must have the root of de or ren in their original nature that comes from Heaven. Confucius himself holds that humans have a natural potential for becoming good: "Is ren really far away? No sooner do I desire it than it is here" (Analects, 7:30). Nevertheless, although everyone has the root of ren, it is through learning and practice that one can manifest and actualize it. Thus, Confucius says that "men are close to one another by nature [ xing ]. They diverge as a result of repeated practice" (17:2).

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acidHumanism - Chinese Conception of - Underlying Beliefs, Achieving Ren, The Beliefs Of Mencius, Contemporary Revival Of Confucianism, Bibliography