Li as Cultural Grammar: On the Relation between Li and Ren in Confucius' Analects

Philosophy East and West 57 (3):311 - 329 (2007)

Authors
Chenyang Li
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Abstract
A major controversy in the study of the "Analects" has been over the relation between two central concepts, ren (humanity, human excellence) and li (rites, rituals of propriety). Confucius seems to have said inconsistent things about this relation. Some passages appear to suggest that ren is more fundamental than li, while others seem to imply the contrary. It is therefore not surprising that there have been different interpretations and characterizations of this relation. Using the analogy of language grammar and mastery of a language, it is proposed here that we should understand li as a cultural grammar and ren as the mastery of a culture. In this account, society cultivates its members through li toward the goal of ren, and persons of ren manifest their human excellence through their practice of li
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DOI 10.1353/pew.2007.0033
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