CONFUCIAN PERSPECTIVES ON THE
INDIVIDUAL AND THE COLLECTIVITY
In approximately the same historical time frame there began to evolve, in the societies we recognize as ancestral to two of the world's oldest continuous cultures, India and China, distinctly different conceptions of the human—distinct perspectives on the individual and the relation of the individual to the various configurations of society. By a time well before the beginning of the Christian era in the West—during an age represented by Karl Jaspers as the "axial age" 1 of antiquity—certain fundamental attitudes concerning the person had been articulated in China, as they had in India. A religious core had been laid down that seems to have given shape and substance to subsequent intuitions concerning what it means to be human. Despite enormous changes in ideas and social practices over a long span of human history, this religious core proved remarkably vital and resilient. It still profoundly influences what many of our contemporaries believe about their own humanity and what they understand of human dignity. Given the long tenure, the inherent weight, and the continued relevance of this core of beliefs and values, it deserves to be taken seriously by those concerned with human rights.
In the first part of the essay, which deals with classical Confucian perspectives on the nature, duties, and rights of the individual, I have attempted some comparisons with the Hindu perspectives described by Joseph Elder in his essay in this volume. In the second part, which is concerned with Confucian perspectives on the nature, duties, and rights of the collectivity, the focus is