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Survey of Confucius’s Approach to Expediency

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image of Frontiers of Philosophy in China

Confucius held that expediency means adjusting to changing circumstances, not necessarily going along with or against anything, having a sense of propriety about times and measures, and doing things in their proper time and manner. However, expediency does not mean doing whatever one likes without any principle; instead, it means taking benevolence and righteousness as criteria and acting accordingly. In Confucius’s opinion, one should cultivate benevolence internally and act with righteousness externally, weigh importance and unimportance, measure advantages and disadvantages, and not “set the mind either for anything, or against anything,” pursuing “what the heart desires, without transgressing what is right.” In this way, he would keep to benevolence without deviating from it, act expediently without despising any principles, and attain a dialectical unification of expediency and principles.


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