A Conceptual Lexicon for Classical Confucian Philosophy

By Roger T. Ames

Subjects: Confucianism, Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Asian Studies, Comparative Philosophy, Hermeneutics
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438490816, 552 pages, October 2022
Paperback : 9781438490809, 552 pages, April 2023

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Table of contents


ba. “Hegemon.”

ben. “Root, trunk.”

cheng. “Sincerity, with integrity, resolve, (co-)creativity.”

chi. “A sense of shame.”

dao. “The proper way, way-making, dao.”

de. “Moral virtuosity, excelling morally, virtuality.”

fa. “Standards, norms, laws, models.”

he. “Optimal harmony, optimizing symbiosis.”

ji. “Inchoate, incipient beginnings.”

ji. “Sacrificing, sacrifice.”

jian. “Remonstrating, remonstrance.”

兼愛 jian’ai. “Inclusive care, inclusive concern.”

jiao. “Teaching, education.”

精神 jingshen. “Spirituality, vigor, vitality, mystery.”

jing. “Respecting, revering, seriousness.”

jing. “Sustained equilibrium.”

君子 junzi. “Exemplary persons, ruler, prince, lord.”

le (also pronounced yao when transitive). “Enjoyment, making the music of enjoyment.”

lei. “Categories, groupings.”

li. “Ritual propriety in one’s roles and relations, ritual practices, ‘social grammar, rites, customs, etiquette, propriety, morals, rules of proper behavior, reverence’.”

li. “Patterning, coherence.”

li. “Benefitting, profiting, personal advantage.”

lun. “Order, relation, category, class.”

mei. “Beautiful.”

min. “The common people.”

ming. “Commanding, ordering, command, mandate, the propensity of things, the force of circumstances.”

ming. “Acuity, brilliance.”

ming. “Naming, making a name for yourself, reputation.”

內外 neiwai. “Inner and outer, inside and outside.”

qi. “Vital energy, qi.”

qing. “Emotions, passions, feelings, the way things are, situation, circumstances.”

ren. “Consummate persons, consummate conduct.”

ru. “Confucianism, Ruism, scholar-teacher, literati tradition.”

shan. “Felicity, efficacy, behaving well, auspicious conduct.”

上帝 shangdi. “High god(s).”

shen. “Heavenly gods, ancestors, spirituality, vigor, vitality, mystery.”

shen. “Lived, social body.”

sheng. “Living, growing, birthing.”

聖(人)sheng or shengren. “Sage, sagacity.”

慎其獨 shenqidu. “Internalizing and consolidating virtuosic conduct as one’s habituated disposition for action, being circumspect when dwelling alone.”

shi. “Warrior, retainer, knight, scholar-official.”

shi. “Purchase, momentum, configuration.”

shi. “Fetal beginning, natal beginning, genealogical beginning.”

shu. “Putting oneself in the other’s place, deference, empathy, dramatic rehearsal.”

shu. “Techniques of rulership.”

si. “Thinking, reflecting.”

四端 siduan. “The four inclinations.”

太極 taiji. “The furthest reach.”

ti. “Lived body, discursive body, embodying.”

tian. “Tian, conventionally ‘Heaven’.”

天命 tianming.

天志 tianzhi. “The purposes or intent of tian.”

體用 tiyong. “Reforming and functioning, trans-form-ing.”

tong. “Sameness, similarity.”

wang. “King, True King.”

萬物 wanwu. “The ten thousand things, the ten thousand processes or events, the myriad things or happenings.”

wen. “The written word, patterns, culture, refinement, King Wen.”

文化 wenhua. “Culture, enculturation.”


無極 wuji.

無爲 wuwei. “Noncoercive acting.”

五行 wuxing. “Five modes of virtuosic conduct, the five phases.”

xiang. “Figuring, figuring out, configuring, figure, imaging, imagining, image.”

xiao. “Family reverence, filial piety.”

小人 xiaoren. “Petty and mean persons.”

孝悌 xiaoti. “Family reverence and fraternal deference.”

xin. “Heartmind, bodyheartminding, thinking and feeling.”

xin. “Making good on one’s word, living up to one’s word.”

xing. “Natural human propensities.”

xu. “Emptiness.”

xue. “Teaching and learning.”

yi. “Changing, exchanging, ease.”

yi. “One, uniqueness, continuity.”

yi. “Optimal appropriateness, meaning.”

陰陽 yinyang.Yin and yang.”

yong. “Courage, bravery, vigor, vitality, boldness, fierceness.”

you. “Friend, friendship.”

有無 youwu. “Something and nothing, determinate and indeterminate, presence and absence.”

yue. “Music.”

zheng. “Proper, acting properly.”

zheng. “Proper governing, effecting sociopolitical order.”

正名 zhengming. “Using names properly.”

知/智 zhi. “Living wisely, realizing, wisdom, knowing.”



zhi. “Native temperament, raw stuff, basic disposition.”

自然 ziran. “Self-so-ing, so-of-itself, spontaneity.”

zhong. “Center, balance, focus, equilibrium.”

zhong. “Conscientiousness, doing one’s utmost, loyalty.”

中庸 zhongyong. “Focusing the familiar, hitting the mark in the everyday, making the ordinary extraordinary.”

主客 zhuke. “Subject and object, subjectivity and objectivity.”

Bibliography of Earlier Glossaries
Bibliography of Works Cited

Uses a comparative hermeneutical method to explain the most important terms in the classical Confucian philosophical texts, in an effort to allow the tradition to speak on its own terms.


Over the years, Roger T. Ames and his collaborators have consistently argued for a processual understanding of Chinese natural cosmology made explicit in the Book of Changes. It is this way of thinking, captured in its own interpretive context with the expression "continuities in change" (biantong) that has shaped the grammar of the Chinese language and informs the key philosophical vocabulary of Confucian philosophy. Over the past several centuries of cultural encounter, the formula established by the early missionaries for the translation of classical Chinese texts into Western languages has resulted in a Christian conversion of Confucian texts that is still very much with us today. And more recently, the invention of a new Chinese language to synchronize East Asian cultures with Western modernity has become another obstacle in our reading of the Confucian canons. This volume, a companion volume to A Sourcebook in Classical Confucian Philosophy, employs a comparative hermeneutical method in an attempt to explain the Confucian terms of art and to take the Confucian tradition on its own terms.

Roger T. Ames is Humanities Chair Professor in the Philosophy Department at Peking University in China and Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Hawaii. His published works include collaborations on translations of the Chinese philosophical canons and several interpretive studies.


"The volume is not only of scholarly intensity and rigid but also of highly responsible originality. It provides building blocks that should attract curious and critical readers interested in Chinese philosophy as a guide to life." — Religious Studies Review