This chapter considers the concept and history of “sage” within Confucianism. It begins with an historical survey that shows how “sage (sheng)” evolves toward expressing the idea of human achievement of moral perfection. The chapter pays particular attention to what Neo-Confucians meant by their repeated insistences that achieving sagehood is possible, as well as by their own personal commitments to advancing toward sagehood. Differences between “sage” and other personality ideals (like “superior person [junzi]”) are noted, and then the chapter turns to a brief comparison between these Confucian conceptions and comparable notions (like sophos and phronimos) from ancient Greek thought. The chapter then looks at discussion within contemporary philosophy of moral saints and moral heroes, as well as the idea of supererogation, which, we discover, is not applicable in a sage-centered conception of ethics. The chapter concludes by examining two criticisms of sagehood, namely, whether it is possible and whether it is desirable.
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