Before and after ritual: Two accounts of li as virtue in early Confucianism

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In this article, I probe the nature of Confucian virtue with special focus on ritual propriety (li). I examine two classic, mutually competing accounts of li-as moral virtue and as civic virtue-in early Confucianism by investigating the thoughts of Mencius and Xunzi. My primary aim in this article is to demonstrate how their different accounts of human nature and equally different understandings of the natural state (that is, the pre-li state) led them to the development of two distinctive political theories of virtue in the Confucian tradition. More specifically, they justified the nature of the li on different terms-human/moral on the one hand and civic/political on the other. I conclude by revisiting the contemporary debate on the nature of Confucian ethics from the perspective of early Confucianism represented by Mencius and Xunzi.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-210
Number of pages16
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Jun

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy


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