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Principlism, Pragmatism, or Reconstructionist Confucianism? —Some Comments on Ni Peimin’s English Translation of the Analects

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This essay provides a few critical points of view on Ni Peimin’s recent English translation of the Analects. It shows that his translations of ren into “human-heartedness” and of li into “ritual propriety” may indicate a willingness to recast these Confucian concepts in the modern ideology of western subjectivism or individualism, whereas Confucianism is not in the direction of such ideologies. Moreover, while Ni seems to offer a “no-rule” view of Confucian virtue ethics, he cannot deny the existence of moral rules and principles in the Confucian system. It is insufficient for him to emphasize the importance of Confucian “instructions” or “methods” as he does without explicating their relations to Confucian rules. Additionally, Ni’s gongfu Confucianism provides a necessary and healthy step back from the contemporary principlism that has been dominant and popular in contemporary politics, ethics, and applied ethics, but Ni goes too far in denying the importance of the moral rules and principles that are implicit or explicit in the Confucian ritual practices and upheld in Confucius’s Analects.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Public PolicyCity University of Hong Kong Kowloon Hong KongChinaE-mail:


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