Confucianism and acceptable inequalities

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In this article, I explore an alternative model of Confucian distributive justice, namely the 'family model', by challenging the central claim of recent sufficientarian justifications of Confucian justice offered by Confucian political theorists - roughly, that inequalities of wealth and income beyond the threshold of sufficiency do not matter if they reflect different merits. I argue (1) that the telos of Confucian virtue politics - moral self-cultivation and fiduciary society - puts significant moral and institutional constraints on inequality even if it meets the threshold of sufficiency and largely results from differing individual merits; (2) that the Confucian moral ideal of the family state establishes and gives justification to the 'family model' of distributive justice that shifts the focus from desert to vulnerability and from causal responsibility to remedial responsibility. The article concludes by presenting Confucian democracy as the socio-political institution and practice that can best realize the Confucian intuition of the family model of justice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)983-1004
Number of pages22
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Dec

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am grateful to P. J. Ivanhoe and Susan Lee for their helpful comments on the earlier version of the paper. The research for this article is supported by the Academy of Korean Studies Grant funded by the Korean Government (MEST) (AKS-2011-AAA-2102).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


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