Confucius, Rawls, and the Sense of Justice

Confucius, Rawls, and the Sense of Justice

Confucius, Rawls, and the Sense of Justice

Confucius, Rawls, and the Sense of Justice

Synopsis

This book compares the role of a sense of justice in the ethical and political thought of Confucius and John Rawls. Erin Cline demonstrates that the Analects (the most influential record of Confucius' thought) and Rawls's work intersect in an emphasis on the importance of developing a sense ofjustice. Despite deep and important differences between the two accounts, this intersection is a source of significant philosophical agreement.The study does not simply compare and contrast two views by examining their similarities and differences; it also offers a larger argument concerning the reasons why comparative work is worthwhile, the distinctive challenges comparative studies face, and how comparative work can accomplishdistinctive and significant ends.Not only can a comparative study of the capacity for a sense of justice in Confucius and Rawls help us better understand each of their views, but it also can help us to see new ways in which to apply their insights, especially with respect to the contemporary relevance of their accounts.

Excerpt

… the institutions of society favor certain starting places over
others. These are especially deep inequalities. Not only are they
pervasive, but they affect men’s initial chances in life; yet they cannot
possibly be justified by an appeal to the notions of merit or desert.

—JOHN RAWLS (TJ §2, p. 7).

In a state that has the Way, to be poor and of low status is a cause for
shame; in a state that is without the Way, to be wealthy and honored
is equally a cause for shame.

ANALECTS 8.13

As several scholars of Confucianism have noted, remarkable differences exist between the structure and content of the work of modern liberal philosophers like John Rawls, who concern themselves primarily with discussions of justice, equality, and freedom, and the work of classical Confucian philosophers, who focus mainly on self-cultivation and virtues that are nurtured, at least initially, largely in the context of the family. An awareness of these differences might lead one to doubt that there is any value in trying to compare these views. What might philosophers who devote enormous time to discussions of self-cultivation and the family have in common with a philosopher concerned primarily with “the fact of reasonable pluralism” in a modern liberal democracy? This book argues that the central concerns of the Confucian Analects and Rawls’s work intersect in their emphasis on the importance of developing a sense of justice, and that despite deep and important differences between their accounts of a sense of justice, this intersection is a source of significant philosophical agreement. However, this book does not simply compare and contrast two views by examining their similarities and differences; it also offers a larger argument concerning the . . .

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