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SagehoodThe Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy$
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Stephen C. Angle

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195385144

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385144.001.0001

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The Political Problem

The Political Problem

(p.179) 10 The Political Problem

Stephen C. Angle (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Sagehood is not just a matter of personal ethics: on any traditional Confucian's view, it is intimately involved in shaping one's broader community both unofficially and through participation in government. In other words, to aim at sagehood is to aim at some sort of political involvement and impact; this is expressed on the slogan “inner sageliness—outer kingliness (neisheng waiwang).” However attractive such an orientation may sound, the political dimension of sagehood seems to have many unfortunate consequences. Critics like Chang Hao and Thomas Metzher have argued that the ideal of sagehood has led to despotism and authoritarianism, has provided the foundation for a problematic utopianism and perfectionism in Chinese social theory, and today undermines democracy and/or support for piecemeal (but genuine) progress. This chapter reviews ways in which Neo-Confucians historically struggled with these issues in their discussions of abstract and institutional limits on rulers. It then turns to some solutions proposed by more recent Confucians like Yu Yingshi, Xu Fuguan, and Mou Zongsan. It concludes that the latter's idea of “self-negation (ziwo kanxian)” offers a promising approach to balancing the different demands of moral and political values.

Keywords:   politics, Chang Hao, Thomas Metzger, authoritarianism, democracy, institutions, law, Yu Yingshi, Mou Zongsan, self-negation

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