Learning and Li: The Confucian Process of Humanization Through Ritual Propriety

Dissertation, University of Hawai'i (2004)

Li, often translated as "ritual" or "ritual propriety," is among the most controversial notions of the Confucian philosophy. Its strong association with the Zhou tradition has caused it to be regarded with suspicion by both Western and Chinese representatives of modernity, mainly on the basis of the Enlightenment insistence of progressive rationality and liberation from the yoke of tradition. This work endeavors to offer a more balanced discussion of li by approaching it from the point of view of the Confucian view of learning or education. It offers a general philosophical discussion of the limitations of the critique of tradition and of rationality's claim to authority, leaning on several Western sources, notably Hans-Georg Gadamer, John Dewey and Pierre Bourdieu. Through an exposition of the ancient Chinese worldview of time and continuous change, it further points to the inevitability of li's adaptable and flexible nature. This underscores the argument, running through the work, that Confucius and his immediate followers did not endorse a program of returning to the Zhou tradition, but rather of reviving the "spirit" of the Zhou culture, involving active and personalized participation in tradition's sustention and evolution. An emphasis on li, therefore, is far from suggesting irrationality---such a view rather indicates the narrow definition of rationality as handed over from the Enlightenment "tradition." The difficulties with such a definition reveal themselves when trying to distinguish between education and indoctrination on a rational vs. irrational basis. The ancient Confucian philosophy of education and personal cultivation steers clear of these problems altogether while at the same time insisting on teaching methods that maximize the student's own initiative and personal realization. In this regard, li reveals itself as an indispensable pedagogical tool, both deepening students' understanding of the significance of their tradition, enabling them to realize their own contribution to its continuous unfolding and thereby providing them with a profound sense of meaning in their daily activities. The concluding chapter brings the issue to the present, and begins with a critical discussion of the prospects of li in the modern world. Lastly, it turns to the state of education both in the world at large and in the People's Republic of China, pointing out some problems for the development of effective education, but certainly some promising signs as well
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 54,536
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy.John Dewey - 2011 - In Robert B. Talisse & Scott F. Aikin (eds.), The Pragmatism Reader: From Peirce Through the Present. Princeton University Press. pp. 109-140.
Wissenschaft als Beruf.Max Weber - 1989 - Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 37 (4):340.
The Problem of the Self in the Analects.Herbert Fingarette - 1979 - Philosophy East and West 29 (2):129-140.
Human Nature and Biological Nature in Mencius.Irene Bloom - 1997 - Philosophy East and West 47 (1):21-32.
Qing (情) and Emotion in Early Chinese Thought.Brian Bruya - 2001 - Ming Qing Yanjiu 2001:151-176.

View all 13 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
16 ( #605,666 of 2,385,594 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
2 ( #373,814 of 2,385,594 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes