The Humanist Ethics of Li Zehou

By Li Zehou
Edited and translated by Robert A. Carleo III

Subjects: Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Confucianism, Ethics, Comparative Philosophy
Series: SUNY series, Translating China
Hardcover : 9781438491431, 270 pages, April 2023
Paperback : 9781438491448, 270 pages, October 2023

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Table of contents

Introduction: A Particular Sort of Rationalist Humanism
Robert A. Carleo III

On Ethics

Further Comments on Ethics

History, Ethics, and Metaphysics

Appendix: A Response to Michael Sandel and Other Matters

Presents Li Zehou's culminating views on ethics in a series of works that highlight the importance of Confucian philosophy today.


Li Zehou's thought has achieved wide popularity and influence among both academic readers and the broader Chinese-reading public. His culminating views on ethics are collected here in a series of essays that highlight the importance of Confucian philosophy today. Li's groundbreaking ethics presents a powerful contemporary theory—one that inventively reconciles longstanding oppositions between relativism and absolutism, emotions and rationalism, and relationality and individuality. Seeing ethical values and principles as embedded in human psychology, society, and history, Li affirms their relativity; he also affirms the objective rightness and wrongness of beliefs, norms, and acts through their contribution to human progress and flourishing. Li thereby endorses modern Enlightenment liberal values, including individualism, rights, and freedoms, but from an original philosophical foundation. By drawing on classical Confucianism to prioritize the situated, relational, emotional constitution of human life, this concrete brand of humanism offers unique modern conceptions of the nature of reason, the source of morality, selfhood, virtue, and much more.

Li Zehou (1930–2021) was one of China's most important and influential contemporary philosophers. His previous books include A History of Chinese Classical Thought and The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition. Robert A. Carleo III is Lecturer at East China Normal University. He is the coeditor, with Yong Huang, of Confucian Political Philosophy: Dialogues on the State of the Field and the translator of The Origins of Chinese Thought: From Shamanism to Ritual Regulations and Humaneness, also by Li Zehou.


"Imbued with Li Zehou's unique anthropo-historical approach and theory of sedimentation, these essays creatively integrate liberal principles and traditions with classical Confucian ethics to propose a new global ethics system. Robert A. Carleo III translates Li's most mature and culminant essays into unerringly precise and graceful English." — Jinhua Jia, University of Macau

"This is another valuable addition to the growing field of Li Zehou studies. Li is a highly original thinker, who offers a nuanced extension of classical Confucian ideas by drawing on Western figures such as Kant and Marx. The book offers an inviting commentary on what modernity could mean for China, and even humanity as a shared concern. Carleo's translation is first-rate and offers numerous helpful notes and recommendations for further readings, thereby opening up the text to readers unfamiliar with Li's work." — Andrew Lambert, College of Staten Island, City University of New York