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Confucian Education: From Conformity to Cultivating Personal Distinction

Abstract

This article explores contrasting interpretations of early Confucian philosophy as they apply to education, focusing primarily on the Analects of Confucius (Lunyu 論語), the Mencius (Mengzi 孟子), and the Xunzi 荀子. I first describe a common interpretation of the Confucian worldview, according to which an already perfected way is thought to have been established. This view tends to encourage thinking of education as a process of conveying the True Way and ensuring conformity to the norms that constitute it. I then describe and defend a contrasting Confucian worldview, in which the learner’s initiative, critical engagement, creativity, and personal qualities play a significant role. According to this interpretation, the way is, to some degree, indeterminate and evolving, and thus more open to participatory inquiry as well as influence. Illustrious virtue, which Confucian learning aims at developing, is likewise to some degree indeterminate and legitimately personalized. Although some degree of conformity to established norms is involved, especially in early stages, Confucian education culminates in the cultivation of personal distinction, developing one’s own uniqueness.

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Correspondence to Kurtis Hagen.

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Hagen, K. Confucian Education: From Conformity to Cultivating Personal Distinction. Dao 21, 213–234 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-022-09826-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-022-09826-y

Keywords

  • Confucianism
  • Mencius
  • Xunzi 荀子
  • Learning
  • Self-cultivation
  • Conformity