Contingency and responsibility in confucian political theory

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In this article I investigate the Confucian sense of responsibility from the framework of “moral economy,” understood as a causal relationship between one’s virtue and non-moral goods including political position/success, and “contingency,” the failure of moral economy, and argue that early Confucians’ astute understanding of the contingent nature of the political world enabled them to subscribe to the non-causal sense of responsibility. Contrary to the common argument that Heaven was invoked by the Confucians in order to shield themselves from responsibility for their political failures, I argue that they imposed a more expanded sense of responsibility both on them and on the rulers, largely preoccupied with realpolitik. In their effort to restore moral economy between the ruler’s virtue and his political position in particular, I show Confucians engaged in what I call reverse moral economy, at the heart of which was to constrain the ruler’s arbitrary use of political power.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-636
Number of pages22
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jul 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/ or publication of this article: The current version of the paper was supported by the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China [Project No. 11670216].

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


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