A Naturalist Version of Confucian Morality for Human Rights


  • Haiming Wen
  • William Keli’i Akina


This article analyzes the source of Confucian universal morality and human dignity from the perspective of the classic saying, “what follows the dao is good, and what dao forms is nature” (jishan chengxing) found in the Great Commentaries of the Book of Changes. From a Classical Confucian perspective, human nature is generated by the natural dao of tian, so human dignity and morality also emerge from the natural dao of tian. This article discusses the relationship between the Confucian dao of tian and the moral notion of human rights which ensues from the historical tradition of Chinese exegesis on this subject. Specifically, the authors reconstruct a naturalist version of Confucian morality which inherently motivates the beneficial outcomes generally associated with the modern Western conception of human rights. The authors argue that such a framework, which would draw upon Confucian “natural goodness within human nature” differs significantly from the more commonly accepted Mencian version of human morality dependent upon the premise that “human nature is good”. This intra-mural differentiation within Chinese philosophy can be helpful in structuring dialogue with various Western theories of human rights.

Author Biographies

Haiming Wen

Renmin University of China

William Keli’i Akina

University of Hawaii at Manoa