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Li in the Analects

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The concept of “li” within the Confucian tradition remains the issue that is hotly discussed by the contemporary scientists and philosophers. It is essential to mark out that the interest towards it is related not only to the historical studies of morality and philosophy but mostly to the role of “li” in the modern life. However, regarding the criticism of Confucian ideas, one can find out that some of the “li” stages are vulnerable to the criticism, but it is not an obstacle to let them contribute to the highest ethical ideal in Confucianism.


In order to find out the right comprehension of this concept, it is important to point out three stages of moral development. These stages are important because they emphasize the appearance of “li” along with the personal development and the changes that follow it. According to Confucius, the first is the beginner’s stage. At this period, “li” are essential in learning the correct forms of behavior. In such a way, a person can see what is appropriate in different contexts. Later the learner starts experimenting and finding out the constant behavioral forms through practice. Finally, the moral principles that were chosen by a person become meaningful and predetermine his/her further decisions.

It is important to regard “li” as the result of the personal commitment. In such a way, the profits and advantages one gets are gained by the efforts, make one wiser and more conscious about what he or she gets, how he or she does it. Considering the fact that “li” formation is closely connected with the inner world of a person and the outer results of the decisions at all stages, one cannot neglect the role of “ren”, which is the basis of interpersonal relations and means “love towards others”. This indicates that these two notions are inseparable.

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If the main idea of Confucius is that the major aim of a person is to become perfect and superior to his or her fellows, the doctrine denies human equality. However, it is only partial denial because at the first stages of the development, humans are equal. The final result depends on humans themselves and is formed through the process of learning.

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