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Human Rights: Virtue’s Last Resort?

GVER, Vol. 6 No. 3, (2012)

Confucianism offers a virtue tradition that attends to societal harmony and self-cultivation in a specific cultural context. Due to this emphasis on a commutarian virtue ethics, Confucianism is often interpreted as offering an ethic that simply cannot reach to question about rights and universal human rights. Several scholars have been challenging the adequacy of this interpretation in recent years, and this paper joins that reevaluation, offering the view that Confucianism does imply a human rights perspective. Examination of specific questions important in Confucian thought, such as the failure of virtue and justified revolt against an unjust ruler, bring these connections to light. The argument is made that the ideal of social harmony requires attention to both virtue ethics and human rights, and Confucianism suggests ways in which these two distinct ethical perspectives can be shown to be compatible, even if it is as a last resort. The suggestion is made that Confucianism models a way to conceive of a global moral community, with the specific virtue of co-humanity (ren) proving a resource for making contact with human rights discourse.

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