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Conflict, Order, Harmony: The Modern Meaning of the Confucian Tradition

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An examination of how a focus on the reading of traditional Confucian texts as a spiritual exercise can enable us to deal productively with modern understandings of the divergences among different ideals of human excellence. An investigation of such ideals has often focused on virtue discourse, but that discourse generates understandable suspicions in many people. A productive approach to these suspicions is to examine both the idea that new virtues (such as spiritual regret) are needed, and the notion that three distinctive modern emphases must play a central role in any contemporary consideration of the relationships among diverse ideals. After considering two kinds of principled opposition to this approach, we turn to Walter Benjamin's exemplary account of the huge gulf between modern and traditional understandings, and the possible aid some texts may offer in bridging it. Focusing on the distinctive operation of specific forms of presentation in the Confucian tradition, we conclude by investigating the idea that reading Confucian texts can be seen even today as an illuminating kind of spiritual exercise.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, Stanford University


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