, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 157–194 | Cite as

Early Confucian Philosophy and the Development of Compassion



Metaphors of adorning, crafting, water flowing downward, and growing sprouts appear in the Analects (Lunyu 論語), the Mencius (Mengzi 孟子), and the Xunzi 荀子. They express and guide thinking about what there is in human nature to cultivate and how it is to be cultivated. The craft metaphor seems to imply that our nature is of the sort that must be disciplined and reshaped to achieve goodness, while the adorning, water, and sprout metaphors imply that human nature has an inbuilt directionality toward the ethical that should be protected or nurtured. I argue that all the metaphors capture different aspects of human nature and how one must work with these aspects. There is much in contemporary psychology and neuroscience to suggest that the early Confucians were on the right track. It is also argued that they point to a fruitful conception of ethical development that is relational and holistic.


Moral cultivation Human nature Compassion Confucianism 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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