Table of contents


Part I: Introduction: "Appreciating" Confucianism

1. A Historically Appreciated Confucianism

2. Leibniz's Appreciation of Confucian China

3. Whatever Happened to Wisdom?

4. Western Enlightenment Rationality: The Internal Critique

5. A "Depreciated" Confucianism

6. The Necessity of Informed Generalizations in Making Cultural Comparisons

7. The Inevitability of Analogy in Making Cultural Comparisons

8. Wholesale and Retail Analogies, Associative and Contrastive Analogies

Part II: An Interpretive Context for Understanding Confucianism

1. Correlative Thinking as Common Sense

2. The Book of Changes (Yijing 易經) and Chinese Natural Cosmology

3. Correlative Cosmology and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

4. Correlative Cosmology as an Ecological Cosmology: From "Things" to "Gerunds" and "Vital Relations"

5. Correlative Cosmology as a Moral Cosmology: This Focus (de 德) and Its Field (dao 道)

6. Correlative Cosmology as a Religious Cosmology: The Emergence of Cultural Exemplars

7. The Collateral and Constitutive Nature of Relationality

8. Confucian Creativity: "What Makes This Life Significant"

9. Tang Junyi 唐君毅 and Chinese Process Cosmology

Part III: The Confucian Project: Attaining Relational Virtuosity

1. "Human Beings" or "Human Becomings"?

2. Setting the Project: The Great Learning (Daxue 大學)

3. "Family" as the Governing Metaphor

4. The Discursive Nature of Family Relations

5. Achieving Personal Identity through Embodying (ti 體) Propriety (li 禮) in One's Roles and Relations

6. The Liberating Role of Friendship

7. The Embeddedness and Growth of "Human Becomings"

8. "Human Becomings" as Creatio in Situ

9. Tang Junyi 唐君毅 on "Human Nature" (renxing 人性) as Conduct

10. Our Uncommon Assumptions

11. The Mencius (Mengzi 孟子) and "Human Becomings"

12. The Five Modes of Proper Conduct (Wuxingpian 五行篇) as a Window on the Mencius

13. The Pragmatic Notion of Relational Person: An Associative and Contrastive Analogy

14. Making Better Sense of the Notions of "Root," "Source," "Potential," and "Cause"

Part IV: Confucian Role Ethics

1. On the Source of "Principles" and "Virtues": Value as Growth in Relations

2. A Son Covers for His Father: And Being "True" Lies in Doing So

3. A Flourishing Harmony (he 和)

4. Propriety in Roles and Relations (li 禮) as a Source of Face and of a Sense of Shame

5. Gerundive Persons as Evolving Configurations of Roles (ren 仁)

6. Ren 仁 as the Expedient in the Way of Acting

7. "Virtues" as "Virtuosity": The Optimizing of Meaning in Roles and Relations

8. The Beginnings of Moral Competence: Family Roles as Ethical Injunctions

9. A Preemptive Vision of the Consummate Life

10. An Explanatory Vocabulary for Confucian Role Ethics

11. Shu 恕: "Putting Oneself in the Other's Place"

12. Zhong 忠: "Doing One's Utmost"

13. Yi 義: "Optimal Appropriateness"

14. Xin 信: "Making Good on One's Word"

15. De 德: "Excelling Morally"

Part V: Confucian Human-Centered Religiousness

1. Getting Past Transcendence: Distinguishing Process Cosmology from Substance Ontology

2. Privileging Gerundive Language: Knowing How

3. Abjuring Clarity on tian 天 and di

4. Cosmic Origins: Genealogical Cosmogony and Its "Epistemogony"

5. Meaning and Value: Confucian A-Theistic Religiousness

6. Confucian Religiousness: The Flower of Inspired Living

7. The Nature of Creativity: Confucian Religiousness as Co-Creativity

Epilogue: The Limits of Confucian Role Ethics

Bibliography of Works Cited

Argues that the only way to understand the Confucian vision of the consummate moral life is to take the tradition on its own terms.


In this landmark book, Roger T. Ames examines how the classics of the Confucian canon portray the authentic, ethical human being. He argues that many distinguished commentators on Confucian ethics have explained the fundamental ideas and terms of this distinctively Chinese philosophy by superimposing Western concepts and categories, effectively collapsing this rich tradition into a subcategory of "virtue ethics. " Beginning by addressing the problem of responsible cultural comparisons, Ames then formulates the interpretive context necessary to locate the texts within their own cultural ambiance. Exploring the relational notion of "person" that grounds Confucian philosophy, he pursues a nuanced understanding of the cluster of terms through which Confucian role ethics is expressed. Drawing from Western and Chinese sources, Ames makes a compelling argument that the only way to understand the Confucian vision of the consummate life is to take the tradition on its own terms.

Roger T. Ames is Humanities Chair Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Peking University and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Hawai'i. His many books include Human Becomings: Theorizing Persons for Confucian Role Ethics; Confucian Cultures of Authority (coedited with Peter D. Hershock); and Xu Bing and Contemporary Chinese Art: Cultural and Philosophical Reflections (coedited with Hsingyuan Tsao), all published by SUNY Press.


"…an ambitious and significant exposition of Confucianism. " — Frontiers of Philosophy in China

"…Ames ultimately taps into a still more powerful picture of humanity—one that denies the worth of both Dionysian or Apollonian activities (no easy task), one that would have us accept our human limitations even as we work to hone our distinctly human capacities to cooperate in more perfect unions. " — Journal of Chinese Studies