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Chinese Conception ofContemporary Revival Of Confucianism

In the second half of the twentieth century, there was a revival of Confucianism, both in East Asia and in the United States, called "New Confucianism," or "The Third Epoch of Confucian Humanism." The revival of Confucianism was greatly encouraged and promoted in the 1970s and 1980s by the industrial success of the states located in the circle of Confucian culture. Led by Tu Wei-ming, Confucian scholars explored the relationship between Confucian humanism and the East Asian entrepreneurial spirit and argued that Confucianism provided an alternative view of Enlightenment rationalism and modern Western liberalism. They further maintained that Confucianism, the main concern of which is the well-being of humanity, can answer many serious challenges in the contemporary world community, and that Confucian values should be universalized.

The contemporary value of Confucian humanism can also be appreciated from its similarity to the virtue ethics of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.). Aristotelian virtue ethics, which has seen its own revival within contemporary ethics, is attractive for two main reasons. First, it concerns the goodness of the agent's whole life rather than focusing on moral acts, as modern Western ethics does; second, its consideration is centered on the character and virtue that a person must have in order to live happily or to flourish, rather than contending that the task of ethics is to formulate rules and principles to govern moral acts. The Confucian humanist ethics shares these two features. Its main concern is to find the human dao, that is, the path a person's life should take, and this dao is through the cultivation of ren, the virtuous disposition based on humanity. Indeed, the Confucian view that ren is what makes a human being a true human being is similar to Aristotle's definition of human virtue (areté) as the excellent performance of human function as a rational animal, although Confucians emphasize not only rationality but also emotion and human relationality. It is in elaborating the notion of ren that Confucianism reflects and discusses issues such as human nature and its fulfillment, the role of social custom and traditions, moral character and cultivation, emotion, habituation and education, the mode of moral reasoning, family, friendship, the role of ethics in politics, and so on. These are precisely Aristotle's main concerns in his exposition of virtue. To a great extent, Aristotelian ethics is taken as a model by contemporary virtue ethics precisely because these important ethical concerns have been left out or at least marginalized in dominant modern moral theories. A virtue ethics approach to Confucianism can help bring out the contemporary significance of Confucian humanism.


Chan, Wing-tsit. "The Evolution of the Confucian Concept Jen." Philosophy East and West 4, no. 4 (1955): 295–319.

Confucius. The Analects. Translated by D. C. Lau. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1979.

Graham, A. C. Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1989.

Mencius. Mencius. Translated by D. C. Lau. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1984.

Tu, Wei-ming. "The Third Epoch of Confucian Humanism." In his Way, Learning, and Politics: Essays on the Confucian Intellectual, 141–159. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Jiyuan Yu

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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