Self-Realization through Confucian Learning

A Contemporary Reconstruction of Xunzi's Ethics

By Siufu Tang

Subjects: Confucianism, Asian Religion And Philosophy, Asian Studies, Philosophy, Religion
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438461489, 192 pages, July 2017
Hardcover : 9781438461496, 192 pages, September 2016

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Table of contents


1. Xing and Native Conditions

Xunzi’s definitions of xing
“People’s xing is bad”
Natural desires and moral neutrality
Goodness and human agency

2. Wei and Human Agency

Definitions of wei
From xing to wei
Human agency: Actions and happenings
Xunzi’s worldview

3. Xing, Wei, and the Origin of Ritual Propriety

Creation of ritual propriety from wei
People’s xing at the two stages of wei
Ritual propriety and the satisfaction of desires
The heart-mind’s approval and second-order evaluation
Desires and their form of expression

4. Ritual Propriety and the Good Life

The self and the good
The petty man and the noble man
Understanding the Way
Community and the self
Ritual propriety as self-interpretation


Confucian philosopher Xunzi’s moral thought is considered in light of the modern focus on self-realization.


Self-Realization through Confucian Learning reconstructs Confucian thinker Xunzi's moral philosophy in response to the modern focus on self-realization. Xunzi (born around 310 BCE) claims that human xing ("nature" or "native conditions") is without an ethical framework and has a tendency to dominate, leading to bad judgments and bad behavior. Confucian ritual propriety (li) is needed to transform these human native conditions. Through li, people become self-directing: in control of feelings and desires and in command of their own lives. Siufu Tang explicates Xunzi's understanding of the hierarchical structure of human agency to articulate why and how li is essential to self-realization. Ritual propriety also structures relationships to make a harmonious communal life possible. Tang's focus on self-realization highlights how Confucianism can address the individual as well as the communal and serve as a philosophy for contemporary times.

Siufu Tang is Associate Professor in the School of Chinese at the University of Hong Kong.


"This succinct work will appeal to Chinese scholars with a primary interest in moral philosophy." — China Review International