1st Edition

The Confucian Philosophy of Harmony

By Chenyang Li Copyright 2014
    216 Pages
    by Routledge

    216 Pages
    by Routledge

    Harmony is a concept essential to Confucianism and to the way of life of past and present people in East Asia. Integrating methods of textual exegesis, historical investigation, comparative analysis, and philosophical argumentation, this book presents a comprehensive treatment of the Confucian philosophy of harmony.

    The book traces the roots of the concept to antiquity, examines its subsequent development, and explicates its theoretical and practical significance for the contemporary world. It argues that, contrary to a common view in the West, Confucian harmony is not mere agreement but has to be achieved and maintained with creative tension. Under the influence of a Weberian reading of Confucianism as "adjustment" to a world with an underlying fixed cosmic order, Confucian harmony has been systematically misinterpreted in the West as presupposing an invariable grand scheme of things that pre-exists in the world to which humanity has to conform. The book shows that Confucian harmony is a dynamic, generative process, which seeks to balance and reconcile differences and conflicts through creativity.

    Illuminating one of the most important concepts in Chinese philosophy and intellectual history, this book is of interest to students of Chinese studies, history and philosophy in general and eastern philosophy in particular.

    Introduction Part 1: Harmony as Philosophical Concept 1. Harmony with Creative Tension 2. Formation of the Ideal of Deep Harmony: He 3. Harmony from the Beautiful: Yue 4. Harmony with Ritual Propriety: Li 5. Harmony through Centrality and Equilibrium: Zhong Part 2: Harmony in Practice 6. Harmony in the Good Person 7. Home of Harmony: The Family 8. Harmonious Society 9. Harmonizing the World 10. Triadic Harmony in the Cosmos 11. Conclusion: Toward a Harmony Outlook


    Chenyang Li is Associate Professor of Philosophy and founding Director of the Philosophy programme at Nanyang Technological University of Singapore.

    "This is the most comprehensive and intriguing scholarly treatment of the concept of harmony in Confucianism. Li’s arguments are clearly articulated with the support of erudite intellectual history, textual exegesis, and most convincingly, crystal clear conceptual analysis. This book is a must for those students and scholars in philosophy, China Studies, and East Asian Studies, who want to understand the core of Confucianism, both classical and modern."

    Vincent Shen, University of Toronto, Canada

    "The ideal of liberty is central to the liberal tradition, but the value of liberty was not discussed in any systematic way prior to John Stuart Mill's On Liberty in the nineteenth century. The ideal of harmony is central to the Confucian tradition, but perhaps even more surprising, not a single book-length manuscript has explored its value in the three thousand year Confucian tradition. Chenyang Li's book finally fills the gap. Westerners tend to think of harmony as synonymous with conformity and uniformity, but Li shows that this view is fundamentally mistaken. Li's comparative outlook is particularly helpful for helping the reader grasp what makes harmony a precious and unique value and why Confucians tend to think harmony is central to any decent ethical system. This book is a tour de force, a must read for anybody who wants to learn about the ideals that make Confucian-influenced cultures tick."

    Daniel A. Bell, author of East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia (2000) and Confucianism for the Modern World (2003)

    "Li’s book presents a thoughtful and inviting schema for understanding Confucianism and its bearing on cultural issues. Scholars who hope for the growth of Confucianism, either as a scholarly discipline or social movement, should welcome the book.[…] Li’s work remains solid, pinning down a theoretical model for those who seek to weave philosophical ideas of the past into the fabric of contemporary society. The book is sure to inspire others, from schools and disciplines beyond Confucian and philosophical studies, to look into the idea of harmony." - Wai Wai Chiu, SOPHIA

    "Li’s critical elucidation of the Confucian ideal of harmony, his analyses of the deficiencies and misunderstandings that have shaped previous (especially Western) understandings of this idea, and his comprehensive treatment of its philosophical foundations, make this a study of indubitable value and interest not only for experts and students of Chinese studies, but also for a wider academic readership."
    - JANA S. ROSˇKER, University of Ljubljana, Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies, 63. 1, 195–226, June 2015, 201-205