Virtues and Rights: Reconstruction of Confucianism as a Rational Communitarianism

Dissertation, University of Hawai'i (1991)
The objective of this dissertation is to explicate the necessity of a coordination of rights and virtues. Interpreting liberalism as a rights-based morality and Confucianism as a virtue-based morality, I direct my criticism to the extremities found within both of two moralities. Through mutual criticism of liberalism and Confucianism concerning the relation between rights and virtues, this dissertation proposes the thesis that coordination between these two ideals is not only possible, but necessary for a fulfilling moral society. ;Individual rights, liberals emphasize, are necessary in our moral life as a means to protect individuals' legitimate interests, autonomy, and liberty against arbitrary intervention. Though rights are necessary as a minimum means to protect the basic interests and autonomy of persons, they are not sufficient to achieve a genuine sense of freedom. Liberals concentrate on rights as basic requirements of morality to the neglect of the importance of character, community, and virtues. The liberal conception of rights needs rectification. A dignified practice of rights requires an excellence of character and a vision of a good life that includes such notions as community and human development. ;On the other hand, Confucians claim that virtues as excellence of character and the achievement of a genuine sense of freedom are necessary and principal components of moral enterprise. Their emphasis on community-based notions of freedom and self-realization, however, leads to a major oversight. Self-realization, I claim, implies a precondition that is all too often sacrificed at the expense of individual liberty and basic rights. Without availability of options and freedom of choice, there can hardly be self-realization, self-cultivation, and excellence of character. ;Through the mutual criticism of liberalism and traditional Confucianism, what is presented before us is not a simple choice of either rights or virtues, but a harmonious coordination of rights and virtues . The minimalist nature of the language of rights and the aspiration of virtues, when integrated into one moral schema, will lead to a richer and more comprehensive appreciation of human development
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