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The Idea of Human Dignityin Classical Chinese Philosophy:

作者:张千帆   点击量:88353

--A Reconstruction of Confucianism AcademicCV: Qianfan Zhang has earned doctoral degrees in Physics(Carnegie-Mellon University, 1989) and in Government (University of Texas atAustin, 1999), and is currently a professor of public law at Nanjing University in P.R. China. Hestudied physics at Nanjing University before he firstcame to the United States through Professor T. D. Lee’s CUSPEA program in 1984,and was a postdoctoral fellow at University of California at Santa Cruz during1990-1992. He then undertook legalstudies at University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore until1995, when he was transferred to UT Austin’s Government program, where hestudied moral and political theory. He served as a representative for the Inter-Collegial Program of SocialResearch sponsored by University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in the summer of 1996, and received the Ford Foundation Grant forAsian Studies for a collaborative research project in the summer of 1998. Beginning in 1998 he was a visitingscholar at the Institute of Economics, Law and Politics of Nanjing NormalUniversity and a research associate at the Public Policy Institute at UT Austinin June 1999. He is a member of theAmerican Philosophical Association, American Political Science Association, andAmerican Chinese Philosophical Association, and is now the Chief Editor for Nanjing University Law Review. Professor Zhang is broadly interested inthe comparative studies of constitutional jurisprudence, legal and politicalphilosophy, and the moral foundations of liberal democracy andconstitutionalism, particularly the relevant enduring values in the classicalChinese thought. He has published adozen articles and several books on these subjects, including“Constitutionalism and Democracy: The Seperation ofPowers and Party Politics in the American Federal Government” (Chinese Social Science Quarterly, 1996),Market Economy and Legal Regulations(Shichang Jingji de Faluu Tiaokong, 1998), The Constitutional Structure of AmericanGovernment (Meiguo Xianfa yu Zhengfu Jiegou,2000), and the coming two-volume work, TheWestern Constitutional Systems (Xifang Xianzheng Tixi). Among other things, he is working on aproject examining the relationships between constitutional engineering, socialand economic transitions, and the traditional moral values in China. The Idea of Human Dignity in Classical ChinesePhilosophy: A Reconstruction of Confucianism All human beings are born free and equal in dignityand rights. They are endowed withreason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit ofbrotherhood. UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights (1948) 1. Introduction About fifty years ago, theUnited Nations appealed to the “recognition of the inherent dignity and ofequal and inalienable rights of all members of human family” as “the foundationof freedom, justice and peace in the world”. Except the 1949 Basic Law of the FederalRepublic of Germany which honored human dignity as its controlling norm, however, the concept ofhuman dignity did not seem to arouse much political attention among nations ofthe world. While many developing nationswere beset by economic hardships and political repression, developed liberaldemocratic nations were caught by the explosion of various political, economic,and social rights. The United States, for example, was preoccupied with the Civil Rights Movement in theSixties and with the welfare rights and rights for women in the Seventies. And, despite the conservative turn, theworld continued to be inundated with the “rights-talks” in the Eighties. Individual rights in different realms ofhuman life--rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, rights againstlegal and political discriminations based on race and sex, right to proceduralfairness in welfare hearings, right to physical freedom of woman versuspotential rights of an unborn life, and so on--seemed to be the only groundthat people in liberal democracies were willing to accept as the basis for goodlife. Yet rights are notself-justifying, and “rights-talks” would remain groundless without some unifyingconception of human beings. Although the postwar rights movements did contribute to improving thesocial, economic, and political status of disadvantaged sections of thepopulation, they shifted the focus of political, legal, and philosophicaldebates away from the central question about the meaning of human dignity and,without even attempting to answer this question, many invented rights remainedunjustified.Recently, however, there seems to be a renewed interest in the idea of humandignity among philosophers and legal scholars. Within the western liberal traditionitself, some philosophers come to treat dignity as the philosophical foundationfor the existence of rights. A U.S. Supreme Court Justice even madeeffort to found the new constitutional rights on the basis of human dignity. The concept of dignity is also used,though implicitly, as a device to reconcile Confucianism, primarily a duty-orientedethics, with the rights-based modern liberalism. The recent rise in referencesto human dignity has hardly contributed to its conceptual clarity,however. The concept, which Dworkin notes rightly as broad and vague, has caused much confusion inliterature. It has been used byauthors of different convictions to stand for different meanings and withdifferent implicit assumptions, often never made explicit and articulated. It has been employed variously to mean,among other things, the Kantian imperative of treating human being always asthe end and never as means only, the “intrinsic humanitydivested of all socially imposed roles and norms”, the inherent worthbelonging equally to all human beings, the actually developedand mutually recognized moral status of a person, the act and the capacityof claiming one’s rights or the self-controlled expression of rights, the right to secureinviolable moral status against degradation and disgrace in the context of theDue Process and the Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment in theUnited States Constitution, self-respect implyingrespect for others as opposed to purely self-centered esteem, the quality or state ofbeing worthy and esteemed which requires respect for one’s physical orpsychological integrity, full realization of humanpower and rational existence, the existentialist “authenticdignity of man” as found in man’s thrownness into thetruth of Being,the universally shared human reality as given by God or the unique value ofhuman being created in the image of God, and the all-embracingConfucian ideal of humanity (Ren) composed of “concentric circles” of the self, thefamily, the state, human society, and the cosmos. While some of the connotations are vagueand unclear in themselves (what is meant by the end as opposed to mere means? what is full realization of human power? etc.), others conflict with one another (e.g., human dignity asintrinsic quality universal to all versus extrinsic characters present only insome human beings). It isperhaps not far-fetched to say that the current discussions of human dignityare mired in the stage of conceptual chaos. In this paper I seek toclarify the concept of human dignity by introducing the contribution ofclassical Confucianism to this subject. As I indicate in the title, however, it is a reformulation of theConfucian view, for the concept of human dignity was neither explicitlymentioned in classical Confucian text nor systematically explained bytraditional interpretations. Inevertheless argue that it is the most adequate concept for understanding andinterpreting Confucianism, which discovered the dignity of man in the innatevirtues (De) unique to mankind bywhich every man and woman is enabled to live a morally decent and materiallyself-sufficient life. The paper is dividedroughly into two parts. After abrief review of the conceptual development in the West, I explain, primarily inthe words of Confucius and Mencius, the meaning ofhuman dignity as exemplified by a Confucian gentleman. Next, I shall discuss the connection betweenthe Confucian concept of dignity and the western concepts of rights andduties. Conceding that Confucianismfailed to espouse the modern ideas of democracy and liberty, as some mightcontend, I argue that the idea ofhuman dignity, which is firmly rootedin Confucianism, does contain the potential of receiving new interpretationsthat can bring about basic compatibility between the Chinese cultural traditionand the prevailing western notion of liberal democracy. While human dignity implies a universaldemand for its protection and respect, and thus is primarily a duty-orientedconcept, the universal duty imposed on the state and society does conferdefinable rights to the individual. I argue, indeed, that compared to the Hobbesiantheory of natural right, on which the western liberal tradition is founded, theConfucian concept of human dignity can accommodate a more balanced andconsistent view of rights and duty. 2. The Concept of Human Dignityin the West: An Overview Like the notion of individualrights, human dignity is surely a western concept. But in the prevalent rights-orientedethical discussions today, “human dignity” is notamong the terms that are often talked about. And in those academic works that domention the phrase (even in their titles), it is often left undefined and isused to express moral convictions the authors take for granted to beself-evident. Yet, of course, the concept of humandignity is anything but self-evident. Having comprehensively surveyed the conceptual development in thehistory of western philosophy, Spiegelberg finds itcompelling to conclude that the meaning of “human dignity” remains vague and inconsistent,and the clarification of the concept still poses a “genuine challenge” tocontemporary philosophers. To facilitate comparison with the Confucianidea of human dignity discussed below, I provide here a brief account of theconceptual development in the West. Since the Greek philosophers,the concept of human dignity has evolved in the entwined development of twotraditions in the West: secular and religious. From the beginning human dignity wasimplicitly associated with freedom and reason. In the Platonic anatomy of the soul, reasonis the best and the highest part; it is the divine substance, the partaking ofwhich elevates the soul and makes it immortal. For Aristotle, men are dignified invirtue of reason because it brings order to their individual and social lives. When it came to the Christian scale ofvalue, however, human reason was relegated to a minor place. For Augustine, human beings are knowinganimals, yet reason is not the end in itself, but only the means to a higherend. Fundamentally faith is the preconditionto right reasoning, and the faith in God, the perfect and highest good, is tobe chosen freely by human will. Free will, then, seems to be theultimate locus of human dignity. In the same vein, Descartes elaboratesfurther that mankind can be said to partake a part of its Creator, not in itslimited capacity for reason, but in the unlimited free will. In a sense man has dignity because he iscreated in the image of God, and carries within him a portion of divinesubstance.Under the influence of the humanist movement since the Renaissance, theChristian view of human nature took further positive development. Indeed, one of the earliest clear expression for the “dignity of man” came from a youngMedieval priest. Yet the Christian notion of human dignity seems to be necessarilylimited in certain aspects. Afterall, it is precisely the free will that makes men consciously abandon theirbelief in God and deviate from his commands, thus falling into sin and evil. Consistent with the Christian theologicalbelief, it seems, human dignity could not possibly originate within human being, but must come from someexternal source. With the Enlightenment, “thedignity of man” became a general ideal independent of particular religiousdoctrines and acquired its modern meaning. Most prominently, Kant combines freedom and reason in one to derive aunique notion of human dignity. ForKant, one’s dignity (wurde)comes exclusively from the inner, unconditional worth of moral law and thecapacity for autonomous law-making. Everyone is in essence a free andrational being, capable of making for him/herself the moral laws that appliesuniversally. In virtue of the self-legislatingcapacity, men is able to live in the kingdom of ends, where he treats others asthe beings of intrinsic, irreplaceable worth (as opposed to goods replaceableat certain prices), and can expect in turn that he is treated by others in thesame manner. The universal, categorical imperativewould commands everyone to treat others as well as him/herself as ends inthemselves and never merely as means to some other ends. Yet, as several authors have contended,the Kantian notion of dignity is difficult to conceive because it is associatedwith moral freedom, which exists not in the observable phenomenal world (whichKant, under the influence of the Newtonian and Laplacianview of the cosmos prevailing at his time, believed to be mechanically determined),but only in the non-observable and incomprehensible noumenalworld (“the thing in itself”). Despite its problem, theKantian conception of man as a morally autonomous and self-legislatingcreature, who must be treated as the end in itself andnot merely as means, remains unsurpassed as the basis for the western conceptof human dignity. Indeed it becameall the more appealing in light of the traumatic human experience in thetwentieth century, especially during and after the two World Wars, in which thedignity and basic rights of millions of men and women were systematically trampledby totalitarian dictatorships. Topermanently prevent the resurrection of monstrosities committed by the Naziregime, the Federal Republic of Germany absorbed the elements of Kantian moralphilosophy in its postwar constitutional practice. Most notably, the German Basic Law declaresin its unalterable opening article that “The dignity of man shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be theduty of all state authority”. The clause of human dignity has led toan admirably body of jurisprudence developed by the German Constitutional Court and is treated as the controlling norm by which all individualrights are interpreted. The philosophical cornerstone of theGerman constitutional jurisprudence remains the Kantian tradition, infused withthe Christian natural law and social democratic thoughts. On the other hand, moralidealism in Kant’s philosophy took a radical subjective turn in theexistentialist development during the war period. In searching for a secure place forhuman freedom and dignity in a hostile human environment, the existentialists turnedto the inner world of human consciousness, and identified the dignity of manwith the freedom of choosing and making oneself. Radical and unfettered freedom nowbecomes the sole foundation of all values. In a representative work, for example, Sartreunderscores the famous existentialist theme: “Man is nothing else but thatwhich he makes of himself”; “Man makes himself; he is not found ready-made; he makeshimself by the choice of his morality, and he cannot but choose a morality”. Through free choice a man becomesresponsible for his actions. Indeed, Sartre goes beyond Kant’s universality of moral laws when hedeclares that man not only legislates for himself, but is also “a legislatordeciding for the whole of mankind”, and thus become “responsible for myself andfor all men”. But, although Sartre seems to agree withKant that certain form of morality is universal, he rejects any notion of a priori moral laws, and insists that “Onecan choose anything”, as long as the choice ismade freely. He further rejects theKantian version of humanism, which takes man as the end in itself and as theultimate value. To the contrary,the existentialists would “never take man as the end, since man is still to bedetermined”. Of course, at the same time, theexistentialists reject the Christian theology as the proper account of humanmorality. There is neither a Godwho created mankind with fixed human nature nor the Ten Amendments whichinexorably order human beings to refrain from doing certain things; every manis completely free and responsible for every action he takes, even though it istaken without any rational justification. As existentialism treats individualchoices as fundamentally groundless, irrational, and absurd, it has often beenattacked for advancing moral nihilism. For our purpose, the radically subjective orientation of existentialismseems to have undermined its chance of success in searching for human dignity. After all, it is difficult to make senseof human responsibility without any guiding principle, or to see the dignity inhuman beings as moral agents whose value choices are entirely without rationalground. A solid basis for humandignity and freedom is yet to be established. In seeking to provide thephilosophical foundation for the respect and protection of individual rights,several attempts have been made recently to reinvestigate the meaning of humandignity. While authors in theJudeo-Christian tradition continue to maintain that human dignity is to beultimately based upon the theological premise that God created man in his ownimage, there areencouraging development within the secular tradition. The concept is explicitly discussed in arecent volume edited by Meyer and Parent, which explores theessential relationship between human dignity, constitutional rights, andAmerican liberal values. Perhapsthe most systematic and consistent treatment is provided by Alan Gewirth, who seeks to use his “dialecticallynecessary method” to derive the existence of human dignity. For Gewirth,the concept of human dignity contains both empirical and inherent aspects. While the contingentfeatures of acquired desirable characters (such as gravity, composure,confidence, and self-respect) belong only to certain human beings and todifferent degrees, the intrinsic worth is shared by all human beings to anequal degree. Questions stillexist, however, as to the relationship between the intrinsic and extrinsicaspects of dignity and its moral implications. In what sense is inherent dignity sharedby all men, making a criminal on the par with a saint? Should individual differences inextrinsic dignity make any difference to one’s political and socialrights? Should the notion ofinherent dignity impose any duty on the person to acquire extrinsic dignity,besides giving him the right to demand respect from others--an aspect on whichalmost all relevant discourses so far have focused? Since these questions have not been satisfactorilyanswered in the existing literature primarily interested in findingjustifications for individual rights, I now turn to classical teachings ofConfucianism for additional insight. 3. The Confucian Concept ofHuman Dignity Although human dignity isexplicitly a western concept, it has a close Chinese correlate. Its literal translation today is Zun Yan, a wordoften used in conjunction with a familiar Confucian term, Ren Ge, which is sometimes translated as “moralpersonality”. The latter word had arather tortuous history. It wasfirst used in Japanese to express “persona”, a psychology term. When it was introduced to China,however, it became associated with the ideal Confucian personality and acquiredmoral and ethical connotations. In expressing the idea of human dignity,it is perhaps better that the two Chinese words be used jointly, so that Ren Ge expresses,in Professor Hare’s terms, the descriptive element,and Zun Yan theprescriptive element, of the normative concept. Although neither word appearsystematically in the classical Confucian texts, as I argue below, this concept(denoted as human dignity from now on) best captures the moral teachings ofConfucius and Mencius. In Confucianism, human dignityis a composite normative concept and, as such, implies conceptual elements onthree related but distinct dimensions: descriptive, prescriptive, andemotive. On the descriptive (or cognitive)dimension, the concept contains the belief in the basic facts about human lifeor, more accurately, about the possibilities of human life, based on empiricalobservations of social interactions among human beings. This is the relatively objective realmof “is” or “can”. The prescriptive(or evaluative) dimension, on the other hand, presupposes the subjectivevaluation of these facts by human individuals or groups, from which the prescriptivenotion of “ought” is derived. Onthis dimension, the concept implies evaluative determination of what types ofhuman life, actions or dispositions to act are to be regarded as “good”, noble,and praiseworthy, and positively prescribes a duty to develop, maintain, andpreserve--at least refrain from harming--the conceived good. Thus, the first two dimensions defines the normative meaning of a value concept. Finally, the emotive dimension entailsthe behavioral manifestations naturally ensue from believing in and subscribingto the norm. It can include, forexample, the exhibited psychological satisfaction and confidence derived fromcontinuous moral practice prescribed by the norm, or the natural sentiments itarouses in common people, such as approbation for what they perceive asconforming (thus desirable) behaviors and antipathy to deviant practices. In this way, the emotive dimensionfurnishes a partial empirical “proof” for the universal presence of the normwithin normally developed human beings. I shall seek to explain belowthe term “human dignity” along these three dimensions. 3.1. TheMeaning of Dignity as Exemplified in Confucian Gentleman Descriptively, human dignity standsfor a set of beliefs about human life or the kind of life that human beings arecapable of living. Here the conceptcontains two aspects about human nature: potential and actual (which roughlycorresponds to Gewirth’s notion of “inherent” and “empirical” dignity, or Stetson’s notion of “intrinsic”and “extrinsic” dignity). The vision of unique human potentials setsthe end for a good life, and requires active pursuit to actualize these potentials. The Confucian idea of human dignity isthus closely related to its central concepts of innate virtues, the personalityof gentleman (Junzi), and the Principle of theMean (Zhong Yong). It should be noted that, unlike virtuesin the Greek sense which stand for acquired moral habits, “virtues” used hereto translate the Chinese word Demeans potentials in a human being, and is sometimes translated equivalently aspotency, power, or capacities. Inother words, the Chinese “virtues” are not primary faculties ready to carry outcertain types of actions (e.g., the quality of justice as propensity to actjustly), but only secondary faculties that enable a person to acquire theprimary faculties (e.g., the ability to become a just person through some effort). The Confucianistsbelieve that men are endowed by Heaven (Tian, equivalent in meaning to Nature) with a set of innatevirtues. In one occasion, Confuciusmakes a remark about himself that “Heaven produced virtue in me”. Menciusfurther develops this assumption of human nature into an ontological doctrine. Everyone is endowed from Heaven, hesays, with four beginnings (Si Duan)of “heart-mind” (Xin);they are the seats for four cardinal virtues: humanity (Ren), righteousness (Yi), propriety (Li), and wisdom (Zhi). While the heart-mind for shame anddistaste (for one’s own bad behavior) is the seat of feeling for justice, theheart-mind for compassion is the origin of humanity. Humanity and justice are the inbornmoral qualities which defines the essential character of a human being andwithout which a man would be reduced to a mere animal. With adequate education,learning and self-cultivation, these innate capacities will be actualized in aperson, making him a mature gentleman. It is to be noted that, since very early in Confucianism, gentlemanbecame a respectful title for anyone who acquired high moral status. As Liang Qichao points out, “Junzi is not a word denoting one’s social status; it is aword that denotes one’s moral status. In other words, Junzirepresents a person who has perfected his Ren Ge”. To Confucius, one becomes agentleman when he has succeeded in cultivating balanced virtues based on thecentral Principle of the Mean. Confucius makes it unambiguous that a gentleman is one who consciouslyfollows the Principle of Mean, by which he unites himself with Heaven. The ability to act according to the Meanbecomes the definitive criterion for distinguishing a gentleman from amean-spirited “littleman” (xiao ren), a “small person” with low moralstatus. Thus, “a gentleman actaccording to the Mean; a littleman act contrary tothe Mean. Because agentleman maintains the Mean, he always act to aperfect degree”. As a result, in a gentleman, we find severalprimary virtues in a harmonious proportion: “Benevolent, he is free from worries;wise, he is free from perplexities; courageous, he is free from fear”. The best example is Confucius himself,who is praised for being “gentle but serious, awe-inspiring but not harsh,respectful but calm”. Now, one may contend that thePrinciple of the Mean is too general to guide concrete human conduct, and thespecific virtues are either too vague (e.g. what is the meaning of humanity, Ren?) or, oncethey received a fixed interpretation, quickly become dogmatic and anachronistic(e.g. to be Renis to respect one’s parents and, thus, when either of them dies, to mourn forthree years). Further, even the Confucianists mightnot agree among themselves as to which virtues (e.g. Ren or Li?) should be placed at the highest hierarchy and govern others,or how they should be interpreted. While these contentions do carry some force, they by no means underminethe basic Confucian idea that man is endowed with a set of unique potentials thatcharacterize him as man; and such traditional virtues as humanity, justice,wisdom, courage, and propriety of conduct, still receive wide approbationtoday, even though their interpretations may be disputed and modified overtime. In other words, while the descriptivecontent of what constitutes human dignity may vary, there is nevertheless theConfucian consensus that a meaningful content is there. We should reject the dogmatic tendencyin Confucianism and admit, with MacIntyre, that our conception ofman is not static, but a dialectic progress, which changes with time,circumstances, and the improvement of human understanding. Yet this does not preclude society fromaccepting, at any given time, a prevailing view about human nature upon whichits moral judgment is based. One essential virtue, whosesocial acceptance does have withstood the test of time, is justice (Yi). A Confucian gentleman is above all arighteous man, who always directs his action according to justice as requiredby the Principle of the Mean. Thus,“a gentleman stands erect in the middle, without inclining to either side.” He ties himself fast to that principle,without being swayed by such external influences as profits, power, orfinancial difficulties. “A gentleman does not give up hisrighteousness when he is poor; nor does he deviate from the Way when he isprosperous.... If poor, he cultivate his virtue in solitude; if prosperous, he strivesto bring virtue to the whole world.” Nor is the principle of his behaviorleast affected by his socio-political status, as “in a high position, herefrains from treating his inferiors with contempt; in a low position, herefuses to court the favor of his superiors. He rectifies himself, and seeks fornothing from the others”. Nor should the state of politicsdistract him from following the path of justice: “When good principles prevailin his government, he tenaciously pursues his goal.... When bad principles prevail in thecountry, he maintains his course to death without changing.” Firm commitment torighteousness confers physical and moral independence upon a gentleman. By claiming more than one deserves (for example,undue prestige or salaries), the acts of injustice indicate a state ofdependence on the others--the signature of a morally inferior mind. On the contrary, a gentleman relies noton the changeable wills of other men, but on his own effort through which hecan bring about the actualization of his innate qualities endowed from Heaven,thereby achieving true autonomy. Having identified himself with the Wayof Heaven, a gentleman will act on his own initiative, independent from anypressure, power or opinion of other men. He is to act justly under all circumstances, with or without theawareness or presence of the others. For even if nobody on earth knows his virtues and vices, the omniscientHeaven and he himself would know; and an unjust action merely degrades hispersonal dignity, making him feeling the shame in his mind. For this reason a gentleman must takecare of his virtue even when he is in solitude. Meanwhile, once he has sincerelyexamined himself according to the principle of justice and left his mind freefrom any sense of moral shame or guilt, a gentleman becomes the most courageousof all men, and cannot be compelled by any external force, least by the fearfor other men’s power. Thus, fromConfucius’ disciple we learn the master’s great courage: “on self-examination, ifI find that I fail to be righteous, I would not threaten a single man, be he inan inferior status; but, on self-examination, if I find that I am righteous, I will go forward evenagainst a crowd of a million men”. To summarize, a Confuciangentleman is a person who has actualized in a balanced fashion the innatevirtues endowed from Heaven as a human being. S/he exemplifies the Confucian idealmoral character that any person can attain through continuous moral learningand practice. In the words of Mencius, a gentleman is “to dwell in the magnificent houseof humanity, to stand in the right place of propriety, and to walk on the greatpath of justice; when he succeeds in obtaining an office, to practice his principlestogether with his people; when his effort is frustrated, to persist in thepractice of these principles alone. Wealth and honor cannot corrupt him; poverty and low status cannot movehim (away from justice); and power and force cannot subjugate him”. 3.2. ThePrescriptions of Dignity: Individual Cultivation and Universal Respect The Confucian concept of human dignity, of course, not only implies the factualrecognition of the unique human possibility of becoming a gentleman, but alsobestow value on the realization of such possibility. And, like every value, it depends on theevaluative effort of the subject itself. An uncultivated person has perhaps the equalpotential to become a sage or a villain; it encumbers on human beings themselvesto value the former and condemn the latter. The great Confucian authority, Xunzi, once says that “Water and fire have essences (Qi), but notlife; herbs and trees have life, but no knowledge; birds and beasts haveknowledge, but no sense of justice (Yi). Man has an essence, life, knowledge and,in addition, a sense of justice; thus he is the noblest on earth”. But even if we are convinced that humanbeings indeed possess the innate sense of justice, it does not necessarilyfollow that it is the most noble; to thus value mankind above everything else,which gives rise to the unique pride for being a man, is itself a valuejudgment. It is an anthropocentricview of homo sapiens, individually and as a whole,as it means simply that we value human lives higher than all other things. This (and, to a Confucianist,only this) life is worth living, precisely because it is believed to be aprocess of continuous actualization of the unique potential worth present in everyhuman life. The “radical worldoptimism”is the very essence of Confucian and, more generally, Chinese humanism. The belief in human dignitypresupposes an irreducible worth attached to every person insofar as s/he is ahuman being. This is best illustratedin the Mencian theory of human nature, which enables Mencius to develop a positive doctrine of human value. Menciusassumes that everyone is born with a noble body together with the capacity todevelop it. Man is set apart fromother animals perhaps by only a slight difference, yet it is precisely thissmall difference that makes man unique. The unique value of man lies not in his material body--because that heshares with all other animals, but exclusively in his moral faculties asembodied in his heart-mind (Xin). Responsiblefor moral and rational thinking, the heart-mind is the noblest organ endowed byhuman being and, unlike the material body whose advantages are unequallyinherited by different individuals, the moralheart-mind is endowed equally in all men and women. As a result, “everyone possesses inhimself the noble value”. The individual moral differences lie notin the natural endowment, but in the posterior development of the innate potentials. Menciusdistinguishes the “noble” or “great” body (the heart-mind where humanityresides) from the “ignoble” or “small” body (sensuous organs giving rise topassion and desire). “While agentleman follows his great body, a littleman is drivenby his small body.” Unlike a littlemanwho is preoccupied with his selfish material desires, a gentleman takes care tocultivate his sublime moral character by pursuing humanity and justice, whichenables him to lead a life that is worthy of his noble nature. Humanity and justice are true nobility,which is endowed from Heaven and cannot be substituted by human nobility (suchas high social status and comfortable material life). While the human nobility is contingenton individual fortune and limited necessarily to a few, the inherent nobilityof Heaven is absolute and universal to all human beings. Now it may be contended thatthe Confucianists valued not so much the potentialsinherent in man as the actually developed qualities exhibited in agentleman. Munroe observes, forexample, that traditional Chinese society had consistently rejected the ideasof democracy and mass political participation precisely because of the Confucianemphasis that only those who had actually developed virtues had the right toparticipate in politics. Merits in arguments of this type aside,however, they cannot support the assertion that the Confucianistsdid not value the pure potentials in everyhuman life. There are plenty ofpassages in the classical Confucian texts that point to the contrary. For Confucius, human beings in general worth more than anything onthe earth, and cannot be arbitrarily harmed or destroyed even by the highestruler of the state. He strongly condemned,for example, the custom of using figurines in the kings’ burial because thefigurines were made to look too similar to real people (instead of only thosewith gentlemanly outlook). When ahorse stable caught on fire, he asked, without mentioning horse, whether anyone (rather than only men of elevatedmoral status) had been hurt. Likewise Menciusclearly sees the same worth in a human baby in his famous example where heattempts to illustrate the existence of humanity by the spontaneous feeling ofcompassion. Suppose we witness a baby approaching a water well, he argues, we would be prompted by our naturalcompassion to go forward and save her from the danger. Had Menciusnot valued the potentials innate in a human being, we would seem to have noreason to save the baby, for she is yet to develop any of her unique human potentials. In this case, an undeveloped human childshould not worth more than other animals, and we should not feel more compelledto save her than to save, say, a cat about to fall into a well. But Menciuswould argue, I believe,tothe contrary: whenever a human life, whose multifarious potentials are yet tobe actualized, faces such danger, the matter is of an entirely differentorder. Thus, although Mencius intended to use this example to illustrate thepresence of humanity in every human being as a potential virtue, it can beplausibly extended to show the general Confucian concern and respect for theinnate human potentials. Whether aperson has actually developed these potentials (as he ought to), they areregarded to have value by themselves and deserve respect from others. In the Confucian view, then, thepotential virtues innate in every human being are an inseparable part of humandignity. On the other hand, as a valueconcept, human dignity also carries a prescriptive component. It places high premium on certainpotentials innate in every human person and treats them as the irreplaceablegood, which positively requires the individuals to cultivate these uniquepotentials by learning and practice in order to become fully developed men and, at the same time, to respect thesame potentials in every other man and woman. Further, the concept can be plausibly soconstrued as to demand that the state and society should respect, protect, andhelp cultivate the virtues in every individual, thus providing everyone withcertain basic rights, both in the negative (liberty) and positive (claims)senses. The prescriptions entailedby human dignity, then, contain three distinct aspects: the self, the other,and the collective. First, a Confucian gentlemanis a person who values his inborn virtues and takes care to preserve anddevelop what he believes to be noble in him, and he is said to have developeddignity precisely because he act in accordance with his innate nobility. Significantly, the Confucianistsdid not stop here, but further required the conscious cultivation andactualization of these inborn capacities. To see this we need only mention the classic Great Learning (Da Xue),which prescribes a systematic program for self-cultivation (Xiu Shen). Having cultivated the virtues, aConfucian gentleman practices and displays them overtly in his daily actions, givingrise to an appearance that commands respect from others. Thus, the Confucian dignity combinesboth the internal and external aspects of a human being; it presupposes thepotential unique to mankind and, taking its value for granted, requires everyman and woman to make a good effort to develop it in daily life. When the dignity is fully developed, itwould spontaneously display itself in one’s appearance and behavior, as a partof acquired habits. Second, the gentleman’s senseof justice presupposes his conscious recognition of the same basic worth in allother persons that command his respect. The respect for others is the natural extension of his self-respect,since a just man must obey the basic rule of reciprocity, which Confucius takesto be the Way for every gentleman: “whateveryou do not wish others impose upon you, nor do you impose on others”. Thus, when his student asks about thepractice of virtue, he says: “When you leave home [to govern a people], behave[cautiously] as if you were receiving a great guest; to employ the people as ifyou were assisting a great ceremony. Do not impose on the others what you do not wish the other to impose onyou”. If a gentleman wants himself to berespected, then, he must first respect others and treat them as human beingswho, like him, are endowed with moral and intellectual faculties capable ofbeing fully developed. To imitatethe absolute justice of Heaven, a gentleman must refrain from doing anythingthat might prevents anyone from actualizing his/herpotential and achieving full dignity. Thus, his respect is due not only to cultivated gentlemen with comparablemoral achievements, but also to every ordinary person, whose innate capacities makehuman improvements always possible. But even that is notenough. For agentleman is concerned not only with interpersonal moral conduct, but also withthe ideal state and society in which he prefers to live. While he respects every human being inthe universe, it would be quite rational for him to require others to pay reciprocalrespect for himself. Further, heshould also like to be able to require that we all (not only he himself)respect the basic dignity of any other person. Human dignity requires universal respect,from which no one ought to be excluded. For this purpose, recognizing the weaknesses and limitations inindividual human beings, a gentleman should concern himself with setting upproper laws and social institutions to secure such an end, that is, to preventeveryone from taking actions that would diminish anyone else’s (and his/herown) dignity. These laws andinstitutions establish what are in nature private rights,because they protect the dignity of every citizen against private encroachmentfrom others. Last and mostimportant, he should be concerned, above all, with establishing fundamentalrules that can prevent these institutions themselves, especially the state,from exercising powers in such a way as to defeat the very aim for which theyare erected. We thus need aconstitution that can limit the powers of the state and social organizations,and provides basic rights to every individual against public encroachment. Although, historically, the Confucianists were not always conscious of the need for theinstitutional balance of powers, it seems to be reasonable to derive thesebasic institutional requirements from the Confucian concept of dignity. 3.3. TheSense of Dignity in a “Shame Culture” Is there any ground forholding this fundamentally optimistic self-evaluation and for believing thatthe distinctive virtues in a human being make him/her nobler than all otheranimals? It is true that, even ifwe can prove that we are in fact endowed with the Confucian virtues (e.g. theinnate abilities to acquire, among other things, humanity and justice), we are by no means logically compelled to confer highestvalue on them or even regard them as “good” at all. Without endorsing existentialism as awhole, we may nevertheless agree that human beings are free to value or devalueeverything existing. Nor is it isfeasible to empirically demonstrate--in the strict sense of the word--theuniversal existence of these virtues in every individual person. Yet at least a partial vindication canbe made to support the self-consistency of holding such a belief. That is, for those who have succeeded in developing theirvirtues, they do feel the existence of the inner worth, as shown in thepsychological satisfaction and self-confidence; on the other hand, if theyundertake actions contrary to the opinion they hold about their moral nobility,they will have a distinctive experience of feeling degraded. Further, even ordinary men and women dohave a sense of dignity within themselves which, though perhaps not consciouslyarticulated, shows itself when their self-esteem is harmed by degradingtreatments. Thus, it does seem thatsome sense of dignity is universally felt in every human being. This leads us to inquire the third andthe last dimension of human dignity: the emotive dimension, which contains bothpositive and negative aspects. First, as stated earlier, thequality of justice in a Confucian gentleman gives him the sense of moralindependence, and allows him to correspond with the Way of Heaven without having toblindly follow others. This presupposes a considerable degreeof confidence in his own moral righteousness, which isto be exhibited in easy but dignified outlook that naturally commands respectfrom others. In the words ofConfucius, one becomes a gentleman “when he maintains a dignified ease withoutbeing arrogant; when he is majestic without being fierce”. As he explains further, “Whether [thegentleman] has to do with many people or few, or with things great or small, hedoes not dare to indicate any disrespect;--is not this to maintain a dignifiedease without any arrogance? Headjusts his clothes and cap, and throws a dignity into his looks, so that, thusdignified, he is looked at with awe;--is not this to be majestic without beingfierce?” The “dignified ease” (Tai) here stands for an appearance of magnificentcomposure that comes from the gentleman’s confidence in his own worth. Second, negatively, agentleman refrains from injustice because he feels the shame in doing unjustthings to others--things that do not worth his effort and the commission ofwhich would make him feel degraded. “Hence a gentleman feels no shame upon self-examination, and brings noembarrassment to his own will”. And freedom from any sense of moral shamegives him both the confidence and courage that are found lacking in a littleman. Theconscious feeling of self-respect within oneself, as reflected in the sense ofshame, distinguishes a gentleman from a littleman. While a littlemancan do anything, however low, without feeling degraded, a gentleman is fullyconscious of the worth inherent in him and will do only those things that areconsistent with or can help actualize his worth. For this reason he regards himself highly. If a gentleman committed a certainaction that was not worthy of his nobility, then he merely degraded himself toa level lower than his intrinsic moral quality--a degradation for which hewould feel shameful. Thus,Confucius insists that a gentleman should “maintain the sense of shame in hisown conduct”;those who would do anything without feeling the shame lack the very moralquality to do the right thing. As Mencius puts it aptly: “A man mustfirst know what he ought not to do,before he can do what he ought to do”. And both Confucius and Mencius have furnished examples for the kind of things thatwill make a gentleman feel shameful. “A gentleman”, for example, “thinks it shameful if his words exceed hisdeeds”,because he would then make false claim on something which he did not do. And “a gentleman feels shameful if theprestige he receives exceeds his virtue”. Likewise, “it is shameful if, serving asan official in the court, he cannot practice the principle of good government”because he would then receive many benefits for doing nothing; for Confucius, “a goodminister should serve his king through the Way and, finding it impossible,retire”. It may be objected that thesentiments for dignity is not universal, but present only in those cultivated gentlemenwho have succeeded in developing their innate virtues. Most often, however, even for those whodo not believe in human virtues or make any conscious efforts to cultivatethem, they nevertheless feel offended when they think that they are treatedless than what they deserve, implying that they do attribute some worth tothemselves--though perhaps unconsciously and inconsistently. This is particularly obvious when theyare mistreated by others. Even a beggarwould feel degraded if someone throws food on the floor for him to pick up, asif the latter were feeding an animal. As long as one has not lost the minimalsense of self-esteem, he would feel offended if his employer treats him merely asa machine for producing profit or government agents push him around rudely, asif they were taming a wild beast. In these situations one would feel humiliated because he thinks that hedeserves better treatment than what a mere animal or machine receives. Although he may purport to ignore oreven consciously reject the worth inherent in him, thereby degrading himself andinviting despises from others, his aversion against the maltreatment seems toimply that he still thinks himself to have some value. Thus, it can at least be argued that thesense of dignity is not limited to those cultivated persons; rather, it isuniversally found in every human being, even though the degree of suchsentiment may vary. The apparent availabilityof such a feeling in every human being may not establish conclusively theexistence of innate human virtues, but does suggest the reasonableness of theConfucian belief in the basic worth of human person. What is human dignity,then? What does it amount to saythat human being is a dignified creature? According to Confucianism, man isdignified because he is born with a set of innate virtues unique to human raceand the capacity of fully realizing these virtues that make him a mature person,and because herespects himself (and other men and women) by attributing high values to theseunique virtues, which lead him to consciously develop them. Human dignity is then a composite ideathat consists in the innate potentials believed to be uniquely endowed by everyhuman being and held at the highest irreducible value, plus the extent to whichthese potentials is practically realized through consciousself-cultivation. An action isdignity-enhancing if it cultivates, practices or exhibits one’s virtues; it isdignity-reducing (thus degrading) if it fails to exercise virtues or preventsanyone from cultivating or exercising virtues. Those who adopt this positive view ofmankind, seeing the same worth and virtues in themselves, take life-long effortsto cultivate them so as to better themselves, striving to achieve the highestdignity possible for a human being. Having cultivated these virtues, they take pride in them and display anovert confidence in their daily behavior; on the other hand, if they happen tohave done things that tend to diminish or prevent the realization of virtues,they would feel degraded and shameful. They assume that everyone ought to see these virtues in himself and in others as something noble and worthy, and thusmake a conscious effort to respect and to cultivate them in order to makehimself a better human being; failure to do so would justly invoke moraldisapproval from other members of society. Finally, they further require the state and society to not only respect,protect, and refrain from degrading the dignity in every man and woman, butalso provide the basic social conditions that makes itpossible for everyone to attain a dignified existence. 4. The Double Implications ofHuman Dignity: Toward a Balanced View of Rights and Duty It is commonly asserted,however, that the Chinese tradition in general and Confucianism in particularlacked any clear conception of rights. While this appears to be obviously true from even a cursory scan ofclassical Confucian works, it would be a mistake to infer that Confucianism isinherently opposed to individual rights, including basic political rights. I argue below that the Confucian conceptof human dignity can accommodate the notion of rights as a device for cultivatingindividual virtues. To hold thisview may require us to modify the traditional view of personhood and to rejectthe dogmatic strain within Confucianism which took the legitimacy of traditionfor granted. But doing so does notundermine the basic argument that, leaving the descriptive content of humandignity open to future modifications, as mankind acquire more experience andbetter judgment, Confucianism can adapt itself to changing circumstances andconceptions of human nature. Indeed,with overall optimistic assumptions of human nature, Confucianism can derive abalanced view of duty and rights, and provide a more consistent foundation forthe commonly held belief in human worth and dignity than modern liberalism inthe West. This section is dividedinto two parts. First, I brieflyreview the western liberal theory of individual rights as represented byHobbes, and point out its deficiencies. Second, I discuss the possibility and the necessity of deriving individualrights from the universal duty of respecting human dignity in Confucianism tomake it consistent with the basic social facts. 4.1. ThePrimacy of Rights over Duty in Western Liberalism Belief in human dignity isoften implicitly assumed in modern liberalism, a dominant ideology in the westernliberal democracies. On June 27, 1998, for example, President Clinton made the following remarks in thehistoric city, Xi’an, the first stop in his recent trip to China: “Respectfor the worth, the dignity, the potential and the freedom of every citizen is avital source of America’s strength and success.... In this global information age ... a commitment to providing all human beingsthe opportunity to develop their full potential is vital to the strength andsuccess of the new China as well.” Yet, paradoxicalenough, modern liberalism seems to be incapable of providing a solidphilosophical foundation for the widely held belief in human dignity. It is simply difficult to find any worthor dignity in man from its basically negative view of human nature. And, without dignity and worth, manybasic and now widely accepted rights would lose their legitimate ground. It is well known that thewestern idea of individual rights is originally derived from the socialcontract theory of Thomas Hobbes. In his Leviathan, Hobbes postulates a state of nature, in which egoisticalindividuals, with limited resources (including material goods and honor) andwithout mutual trust and a common government, find themselves trapped in “a warof all against all”. To escape sucha miserable condition, every person rationally enters a compact with everyother person to put themselves under a sovereign. From such aoriginal promise, enforced by the common power, is derived a set of naturallaws which command each individual to keep peace and observe the terms ofcompact. The dutiesthus prescribed, however, is strictly conditioned upon the originalpurpose for which the compact was made at the first place: the preservation ofindividual life. This is indeed the“inalienable” natural right that Hobbes finds in every rational humanbeing. Every human government mustwork toward the preservation and security of life; failure to do so constitutesa fundamental breach by the sovereign, which brings back the state of nature,where every individual is absolved of all duties toward others and regains naturalliberty. The primacy of naturalright over duty is obvious, as there is no equivalent “natural duty”, but onlyduties derived from rights. The notion of natural right is furtherextended by John Locke to include the right to liberty and property. Although, in Locke’s theory, the naturallaws maintain their binding force in the state of nature, the fundamentalasymmetry between rights and duty would remain if the biblical authority of God is left out. Despite its wide acceptancetoday, the social contract theory of rights contains several difficulties. First, without presupposing the a priori validity of transcendent divinecommand, the existence of human duty would depend entirely upon the prudential calculationsof one’s self-interest, and is thus made secondary to rights. Among other things, the Hobbesian theory can support only a weak notion of duty,that is, a person observe his duty not for its own sake, but only because itfurthers his selfish interest, and his duty stops as soon as the cost ofobeying it apparently outweighs the benefits. Prudential considerations, however,depend on the actors’ foresight and circumstances in which they are situated,and the ensuing uncertainty necessarily undermines the binding force of certainbasic duties (e.g., “Don’t steal” or “Act justly under all circumstances”). Second, without the sanction of an externaldivine authority, which requires belief in a particular religion, the primacy of naturalright of self-preservation in the Hobbesian theorymakes it difficult to even accommodate other widely held rights, such aspersonal liberty and property. Ifhuman beings are by nature selfish, unjust, vile, and rapacious, it seemsdoubtful whether they are worthy of any rights other than barepreservation. Finally, and most significantfor our purpose, it seems to be very difficult to consistently derive from thistheory the widely held “recognition of the inherent dignity” in the Preamble ofthe Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or respect for “the worth, thedignity, the potential and the freedom of every citizen”, to which PresidentClinton alluded in his China trip. If everyone is, as Hobbes depicts, an egoistical animal preoccupied withhis self-interest, and his apparent observance of law and duties arises onlyfrom the fear for the punishments of the sovereign power, then it is difficultto find any worth and dignity in human beings. If men act by nature like thieves androbbers, then the mere appearance of law-abidingness does not change who theyreally are, and few would find that theft and robbery are worthy or dignifiedway of life. The basic problem with themodern liberal theory of rights is, then, its low estimation of human beingcontrary to the widely held practical beliefs. Such an initial assumption makes it toodifficult to derive the notion of innate dignity or worth, and makes basicduties too easily overwhelmed by the prudential concerns ofself-interests. For this reasonmodern liberalism is criticized, perhaps with some justice, for adopting an unnecessarilydim view of human nature and for ignoring the inherent moral potential in ahuman being. By undermining socialduty and legal constraints on personal gratification of desires, it is charged, the radicalindividualistic tendency in modern liberalism dehumanizes human beings. I argue below that Confucianism, while fundamentallya duty ethics and despite its own problems, provides asalutary correction to such a tendency and, if properly construed, is capableof accommodating a well-balanced theory of rights. 4.2. FromUniversal Duty to Universal Rights: A Confucian Transformation? We have already seen that, asa consistent implication of the Confucian belief, the universal respect forhuman dignity carries the demand that the state and society must protect andhelp cultivate the innate virtues in every individual human being, and thistask is probably best achieved by providing a constitutional system of basic rights. It is nevertheless true that such asystem of rights has been conspicuously lacking throughout the Chinesehistory. It appears as if that, byemphasizing social duty, the traditional Chinawere diametrically opposed to the modern west. The reason for such difference liespartly in the different conception of equality. As Munroe points out, the classical Chinesephilosophers recognized only naturalequality in the sense that everyone is born with innate virtues as unique humanpotentials, but denied actualequality that all men could in fact develop their nature to such an equalextent as to entitle them to equal respect. In Confucianism, this view had justifiedthe hierarchical structure of society and the denial of popular participationin government. By focusing on thecapacities that the people have in factdeveloped through learning and education, the Confucianistshad limited the participation in government to a small group of elites, andignored the notion of innate moral rights developed in the West,which entitles every adult to some form of participation. As a result, Confucianism had neverdeveloped an explicit notion of “rights”--not modern political right toparticipation, not the Lockean right to property invirtue of one’s labor, not even the Hobbesian naturalright to self-preservation. Similarto the classical and Medieval counterparts in theWest, Confucianism was decidedly duty-orientated. In what the Chinese view as a justsociety, one’s “right” (that is, social, economic and political privileges) wasto be made strictly proportional to the degree of actually developed worth andability. The state and society mustbe run by the most virtuous and worthy, who almost always remain a small minority,and it seemed to them patently absurd to allow the ignorant, selfish, andmorally immature mass to choose their own leaders. To the contrary, Confucius and hisfollowers were simply concerned with how to make men virtuous and, at the sametime, make the virtuous men rule. In a sense the Confucianists were quite right. If one is truly incompetent in a certainvocation (e.g. political participation), then both justice and common prudencerequire that he should refrain from engaging in it, but leave it instead tothose who are capable. And mererights, freedom and participation are not the only things about which thepeople ought to care; indeed these things alone are not even sufficient tosustain social and political institutions. Rather, they presupposesomething else as their foundation, that is, the development of the people’svirtues and the primary means by which the virtues are acquired: propereducation and upbringing. Afterall, hardly anyone wants to live in a society full of “rights” and “freedom”,but bereft of basic norms, values, and a sense of duty--a society in whicheveryone feels free to do whatever s/he wants, without any moralconstraint. Such a society would benecessarily one of “littlemen”, among whom numerous conflicts,strives, infringements and oppressions are bound to occur. On the other hand, a democracy worthy ofits name presupposes a society of gentlemen who, having developed their virtuesand become mature citizens, are capable of exercising their “rights”intelligently. Thus, for goodreasons, self-cultivation has occupied the central position of Confucianism; itis the very path toward the making of virtuous and dignified citizens. To be consistent with theConfucian assumption of natural equality, however, even xiao ren (“littleman”)is, after all, a ren(person) and must be treated as a human being with the inborn potentialvirtues. For those who choose toaccept the Confucian view of man must believe that every man and woman is equally endowed with the innate virtues andthink highly of them. Even a littlemandeserves some respect for his innate nobility in virtue of being ahuman--better, nobler and more worthy than other animals. Thus, to a Confucian gentleman, itis morally inadequate to treat anyone--littleman,even a criminal, not excepted--like a mere animal. The failure to cultivate one’s virtuesshould never lead a gentleman to merely despise one’s person, but should ratherurge him to help the littleman by all means tocultivate the virtues and become a gentleman. The belief in human dignity may furtherinspire a gentleman to devise a better system of education, among other things,in order that everyone can have a reasonable opportunity to actualize his/hervirtues and to maximize, as it were, his dignity. At least, social and political schemesshould never be designed to merely put down a littlemanand make him docile simply for the sake of societal peace and order. As everyone is endowed by Heaven withthe innate virtues which afford him some basic dignity, everyone is an end in himself, more than a tool for any other end, howevergrandiose. Thus, it can be plausiblyargued within the Confucian framework that an ordinary person should have someright in discussing and deciding public issues that will ultimately touch uponhis life, and many such issues might be plain enough to be understood by acommon mind with reasonable education. Further, to become a gentleman presupposes a set of favorable social andpolitical conditions, which had been denied to most ordinary men and women intraditional China. A person need be giventhe basic education and some opportunity for practice before he canintelligently participate in government. Without these opportunities, he will most likely remain a uneducated and underdeveloped “littleman”--notbecause he wishes to remain politically ignorant and incompetent, but becausehe lacks the fortune (at least a reasonably wealthy family, among other things)that is beyond his control but is nevertheless necessary for his moraldevelopment. Since the mass ofpeople were deprived of the opportunity to become morally developed gentlemen,the apparently “just” system of merit was based ultimately on injustice. In this sense, a social and politicalsystem that guarantees a minimum right--to participate in government orotherwise--seems to provide more fairness because it can af