Confucian Constructivism: A Reconstruction and Application of the Philosophy of Xunzi

Dissertation, University of Hawai'i (2002)
In Part I, I offer a "constructivist" interpretation of Xunzi's philosophy. On the constructivist view, there is no privileged description of the world. Concepts, categories, and norms as social constructs help us effectively manage our way through the world, rather than reveal or express univocal knowledge of it. ;In the opening chapter, I argue that dao should be understood as open ended and that Xunzi's worldview allows for a plurality of legitimate daos---at least at the theoretical level. Chapter Two discusses the concepts of li and lei and rejects the idea that true categories follow from a "god-like" understanding of rational patterns. Rather, patterns and categories are mutually entailing. That is, categories are not simply based on patterns, but are at the same time a precondition for patterning. Chapter Three addresses the related concept of ming , and the idea of zhengming . Attuning names is not matching them to any transcendent standard, but making them fitting given our nature and circumstances. It is constructing and maintaining a socially responsible language. I also discuss here the complex manner in which early Confucians understood names to be developed and sanctioned. In Chapter Four I discuss ritual theory and argue that Xunzi offers a this-world centered religious sensibility. Far from a matter of slavishly following a code of behaviors set down perfectly by ancient sages, the performance of li requires interpretation in every application. Further, norms associated with li may evolve in response to changing needs and conditions. In the final chapter of Part I, I turn to the issue of virtue and moral development, arguing that there is no fixed set of virtues. ;Part II shifts focus to the contemporary relevance of a constructivist way of thinking by using it to understand the cross-cultural dynamics taking place in international discourse on human rights. In short, interpreting the arguments of contemporary representatives of East-Asian countries through a constructivist lens reveals them to be more compelling than they might otherwise have seemed
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