Confucian ethics : Universalistic or particularistic?

Wai Ying WONG

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Whether Confucian ethics is universalistic or particularistic has been a controversial topic since Chinese people started to critically review their own traditional culture in the late Ch'ing or since the latter part of the 19th century. Sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers and even-novelists have been involved in this review. Strangely enough, however, its underlying question has never been well discussed: "What is Confucian ethics?" It remains unclear what we refer to when someone making a thesis about Confucian ethics. Is it a bundle of conventions which Chinese people (in the ancient world as well as here and now) consistently and habitually follow? Is it a set of social norms established and enforced by emperors? Or, does it consist of virtues wedded to various roles? Is it, rather, a system of moral principles entangled with certain metaphysical assertions? Only when we make clear what we mean by Confucian ethics can we attribute to it an adjective such as "universalistic" or "particularistic". Also, answers to the above questions would carry different implications for theses such as "Confucian moral rules suppress human desire and so violate human nature," or ''Confucian ethics legitimize class, age, and gender discrimination," or "Confucian ethics gave rise to capitalism in East Asia."
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-374
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Chinese Philosophy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 1998


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