Does Human Rights Need God?

By Elizabeth M. Bucar; Barbra Barnett | Go to book overview

5
Enduring Change: Confucianism and
the Prospect of Human Rights

ANTHONY C. YU

That which is above physical form we call the way; that which is below
physical form we call instrument. That which transforms and regulates
[things] we call change. To deduce [such principles] and act on them we
call connection. To take up [such principles] and install them among the
people of the world we call service and enterprise
.1

From the beginning, this essay will attempt both a critique of Chinese Confucianism as it is traditionally conceived and a reinterpretation of certain Confucian concepts that may provide the basis for the formulation — perhaps even the advocacy — of universal human rights. Instead of arguing for the cultivation of virtues and the exaltation of “communal values” favored by

This essay began as an invited lecture in a year-long series in 1998 on “The Souls of Nations and the Prospect for Democracy” sponsored by the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy at the University of Chicago. I acknowledge with gratitude the generosity and kindness of my colleagues, Professors Nathan Tarcov and Joseph Cropsey, directors of the Center. The essay has also benefited from the discerning comments of my colleagues and friends — Professors Alan Gewirth, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Franklin Gamwell, Bruce Lincoln, Victor Mair, Henry Rosemont, and Lisa Raphals. The first version of the essay, with full citations of the Chinese texts in the original, was published by Lingnan Journal of Chinese Studies, new series, no. 2 (October 2000): 27–70. Translated into Chinese, the essay also appeared in Newsletter of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica 11, no. 3 (September 2001): 1–52. A slightly revised English version without Chinese citations was subsequently published in Human Rights Review 3, no. 3 (April-June 2002): 65–99. The current version, slightly modified and reedited, is substantially the same as the HRR essay, and it is published here by permission from both Lingnan Journal of Chinese Studies and HRR.

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