Servants of Heaven: the place of virtue in the Confucian cosmos

  • Benjamin Huff


Understanding Heaven and its governance or decree is essential to the Confucian ethos. Yet recent scholarship displays deep disagreements on how Heaven (tian 天) and its decree (ming 命) are to be understood. Contrary to some recent scholars, in this paper I argue that the conception of Heaven and its decree within the Analects and the Mencius is quite consistent and unified, and so is its ethical status. I argue that Heaven is the physical heavens, understood as a divine agency that brings into being and orders every particular thing that exists. I further argue that Heaven is a beneficent force that humans should strive to harmonize with, and that Heaven’s beneficent character is reflected in its decree, the content of its governing agency. In particular, the moral standard Heaven sets for human activity is part of a coherent order it establishes for the world and actively works to realize, in part through the actions of its chosen servants. Like the ancient sage kings, Confucius and Mencius regard themselves as partners with Heaven in carrying out its designs, conspiring with Heaven to fulfill its decree and put into effect its pattern of benevolent governance.


Heaven Decree (ming 命) Virtue Problem of evil Cosmology 


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Copyright information

© Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Randolph-Macon CollegeAshlandUSA

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