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On Confucian Political Philosophy and Its Theory of Justice

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image of Frontiers of Philosophy in China

Traditional Confucian political culture (including its concepts, systems, practices and folk customs) has a legacy that deserves careful reconsideration today. Its theories, institutions, and practices address the source, legitimacy, division and balance, and restriction of political power. Confucian politics is a type of “moral politics” which sticks to what ought to be and what is justifiable, and holds that political power comes from Heaven, mandate of Heaven or Dao of Heaven, which implies that justification and standards rest with the people referring to scholars peasants, workers and merchants. This type of justification is rooted in the public space and the autonomous strength of the people, and it finds guidance in the involvement, supervision, and criticism of the class of scholar-bureaucrats (shi 士). In this article, Western political philosophy will be taken as a frame of reference for evaluating Confucian conception of justice as well as Confucian ideas of distribution, fairness of opportunity, caring kindness for “the least advantaged,” and institutional construction. It will argue that the leading characteristic of Confucian political theory is that of “substantive justice.”


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