Rational Justification in Xunzi

Thinkers justify their views in a variety of ways. Operating in an alien intellectual milieu, the early Confucian Xunzi (c. 310–215 B.C.E.) provides an intriguing counterpoint to familiar contemporary options for such reasoned support. This essay examines an idea thatis crucial to Xunzi’s justification of his larger philosophical vision, and which has been the object of incompatible and misleading interpretations. This key term of art is li, meaning “order” or “pattern,” which some scholars have translated as “principle,” and others more recently as “reason” or “rationale.” Examining how, for Xunzi, li never means “reason” in the sense of a faculty of the mind, or a warrant for an action or belief, nor “rationale” in the sense of a justifying account, helps us to grasp the distinctive ways he conceived of thinking and arguing. It also illuminates his understanding of the cosmos and human relations with and within it
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