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On the Dimension of Self-cultivation of Li in Xuncian Philosophy

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From the perspective of macro-politics, previous studies of Xunzi’s theory of Li 禮 (Rituals and Social Norms/Propriety/Rules of Proper Conduct) mainly concern the function and value of Li as a means of social control/governance that provides regulations and institutions (Dianzhang Zhidu 典章制度). As a study of moral philosophy, this article adopts a micro-perspective to examine the individual agent [who practices Li], and focuses on the dimension of individual self-cultivation through Li as discussed by Xunzi. This article argues that, based on the Confucian notion of moral community, even at the level of laws and institutions, the social stratification and social order established by Li also contain the value of “constructive morality.” The value foundation of Li lies not only in the propriety of external behavior but also in its performance of inner virtues. This article also points out that Li is a notion of virtue precisely because it is the realization and expression of Yi. In addition, Li-performance is the cultivation and nourishing of the agents’ emotions and ethics in which natural emotion is elevated into moral sentiment. In short, according to Xunzi, Li-performance is a fundamental process and means of individual moral self-cultivation.

Affiliations: 1: School of Philosophy 哲學院, Beijing Normal University 北京師範大學


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