What are the Key Components of Confucian (Ruist) Virtues?

by J.D. (“Joffre”) Meyer

First of all, Confucianism is a Western-imposed misnomer. We prefer to be called, “Ruists.” Let’s start with The Five Virtues as an introduction to the philosophy.

The Five Virtues are (1) humanity, (2) propriety, (3) appropriate-assertiveness, (4) wisdom, and (5) faith. Humanity (jen) is the first virtue, and its beginning is compassion. Mencius asserted that one would rescue a child that had fallen in a well out of compassion, not the desire to advance in society. The Chinese character for jen is a person standing next to the number two, symbolizing a person in society—a simple four stroke character. The last virtue is faith (hsin), meaning the completion of the other four virtues. The Chinese character is a person standing next to “word.”

The beginning of propriety (li) is deference. The beginning of appropriate-assertiveness (i) is shame. Through courage, we move from withdrawn shame to assertiveness. This concept is usually translated as “righteousness.” David Nivison introduced the more accurate translation as “appropriate-assertiveness.” The beginning of wisdom (chih) is distinguishing right from wrong.

Let’s examine propriety according to the concepts of pattern-principle and vital force. If we don’t exhibit enough pattern-principle in our expression of propriety, we are rude. On the other hand, if we don’t show enough vital force, then we’re boring. Through appropriate-assertiveness, we add to propriety.

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