Confucianism and Human Rights

In Thomas Cushman (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Human Rights. Routledge. pp. 244-254 (2011)
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Abstract

One of the most high-profile debates in Chinese philosophy concerns the compatibility of human and individual rights with basic Confucian doctrines and practices. Defenders of the incompatibilist view argue that rights are inconsistent with Confucianism because rights are (necessarily) role-independent obligations and entitlements, whereas Confucians think that all obligations and entitlements are role-dependent. Two other arguments have to do with the practice of claiming one's own rights, holding (a) that claiming one's rights undercuts family-like community bonds and (b) that giving everyone license to claim her own rights is incompatible with certain hierarchical social structures that Confucians value. In this essay, I show that these arguments are too crudely formulated to identify the real points of contention with rights compatibilism, and then develop versions of two of the arguments which, when properly qualified, pose a more serious challenge for those who think rights and a license to claim one's own rights are consistent with core Confucian views.

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