Glossary of Terms for Confucianism 

Chih (zhih) - wisdom, moral understanding or judgement; one of the four virtues in Mencius' seed or sprout theory

Chün-tzu - superior man, gentleman, noble, scholar - the superior man is a model that the students are to emulate along with the sages and good kings of old.  

Comments from Muller: :


Superior Man is a common English translation for the Chinese term chün-tzu which originally means "Son of a Prince"--thus, someone from the nobility. In the Analects, Confucius imbues the term with a special meaning. Though sometimes used strictly in its original sense, it also refers to a person who has made significant progress in the Way (Tao) of self-cultivation, by practicing Righteousness, by loving treatment of parents, respect for elders, honesty with friends, etc. Though the chün-tzu is clearly a highly advanced human being, he is still distinguished from the category of sage (sheng-jen), who is, in the Analects more of a "divine being," usually a model from great antiquity.

The character of the Superior Man, in contrast to the sage, is being taught as a tangible model for all in the here and now. And although many descriptions of the requirements for chün-tzu status seem quite out of our reach, there are many passages where Confucius labels a contemporary, or one of his disciples a "Superior Man," intending a complement. Thus, the categorization is not so rigid. One might want to compare the term "Superior Man" to the Buddhist bodhisattva, in that both are the models for the tradition, both indicate a very high stage of human development as technical terms, yet both may be used colloquially to refer to a "really good person."

The Confucian "Self"- click on the lecture - Scroll to roman numeral II.  See also the brief article on "Confucius and Confucianism"  from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Hall and Ames at

Emulation - Modeling oneself after moral exemplars.  In Confucianism one of  the ways one cultivates oneself is to emulate the model of the chün-tzu or superior man.  Another is to model oneself after key figures of the past including worthy kings and sages.  See also the brief article on "Confucius and Confucianism"  from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy at "Confucius and Confucianism" by Hall and Ames at  Self-cultivation and emulation are closely related.

hsiao -familial love, filial piety, kindness, respect, and loyalty among family members. Example: the son who does not testify against his father who has stolen a sheep. Also, from the Doctrine of the Mean 13 (Muller translation): "

(1) Treating my father as I expect my son to treat me.

(2) Treating my ruler as I expect my ministers to treat me.

(3) Treating my older brothers as I expect my younger brothers to treat me.

(4) Treating my friends as I expect my friends to treat me.( 15 Nov. 2000)

jen/ren - humanity, humaneness, benevolence, compassion, love for fellow beings, "co-humanity" (Boodberg in Tu Weiming, "Chinese Philosophy: A Synoptic View" in A Companion to World Philosophies edited by E. Deutsch and R. Bontekoe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1997) , p. 9). This term also can be translated human excellence, humaneness, virtue. It is a characteristic of humanity at its best, a source of moral principles, and the outcome of a moral life. "The Chinese character jen is formed from symbols that mean "two human beings." Thus it represents the ideal relationship among humans." (John Roth, "The Analects of Confucius," in Masterpieces in World Philosophy. ed. F.N. Magill (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), pp. 1-2).  The following comment by Muller is also enlightening:

 [Comment by Muller] The Chinese term jen has been translated into English as "humanity," "benevolence," "goodness," "Perfect Goodness," etc. It is a difficult concept to translate because it doesn't really refer to any specific type of virtue or positive endowment, but refers to an inner capacity possessed by all human beings to do good, as human beings should. This is the reason some have translated it as "humanity." The problem with this translation is that it does not indicate the "goodness" implied by the term jen. In the Chinese "essence-function" perception, jen can be understood as the essence of all kinds of manifestations of virtuosity: wisdom, filial piety, reverence, courtesy, love, sincerity, etc., all of which are aspects, or functions of jen. Through one's efforts at practicing at the function of jen, one may enhance and develop one's jen, until one may be called a Superior Man, or even better, a "Person of jen." In the Analects, "person of jen" is an extremely high state, rarely acknowledged of any human being by Confucius.( Most accessed 4/11/02 and 8/18/02))

li- ritual, propriety, etiquette, rites, body of rules governing actions, tradition. Li is the social glue. "The rules of behavior governing the interaction between people in recurring social contexts, such as the way to conduct sacrifices, marriage ceremonies and funerals, the way for hosts and guests to interact, as well as various obligations one has toward another person in virtue of the different positions the two occupy within the family or state. The term ‘li’, which refers to such rules, is often translated as ‘rites’ because it originally referred to rites of sacrifice and, even when used more broadly to refer to various rules of conduct, it still emphasizes the ceremonial. (Shun Kwong-loi, "The Idea of the Good in Chinese Philosophy," in A Companion to World Philosophies edited by E. Deutsch and R. Bontekoe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1997) 139-47, p. 140)." Hall and Ames use an interesting phrase to describe li:  "the underlying syntax of community."  (Hall, David L. and Roger T. Ames (1998). Chinese philosophy. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved November 03, 2005, from

Comment {by Muller}] Propriety is the English rendition of the Chinese li. This is a word that also has a wide spectrum of meaning in Classical Chinese thought, and is difficult to translate by a single word. Its most basic meaning is that of "ritual" or "ceremony," referring to all sorts of rituals that permeated early East Asian society. The most significant of course, would be wedding ceremonies and funerals. But there were also various agricultural rituals, coming-of-age rituals, coronations, etc. Confucius was an expert on the proper handling of all sorts of rituals.

The term li however, has, in the Analects, a much broader meaning than ritual, since it can also refer to the many smaller "ritualized" behavior patterns involved in day-to-day human interactions. This would include proper speech and body language according to status, age, sex--thus, "manners." In this sense, li means any action proper, or appropriate to the situation. For instance, in the modern context, I might go up and slap my friend on the back. But I certainly wouldn't to that to my professor, or to a student in my class whom I don't know very well.

In the Analects, li, as a general category, is clearly defined in a relationship with jen, where jen is the inner, substantial goodness of the human being, and li is the functioning of jen in the manifest world. That is to say, li is Righteousness, filial piety, fraternal respect, familial affection, etc.] (Charles Muller Translation of the Analects from Most accessed 4/11/02 and 8/18/02 )

Mencius’ sprout or seed theory - click on the overhead

Particularism -  In the context of a contrast between  particularism and the universalism of systems such as utilitarianism or Kantianism which favor universal rules which apply to all persons in the same way, particularism is more contextual.   It holds that one should not follow universal, absolute rules, but make moral decisions that are contextual and take into account particular persons.  In Confucianism particularism may be linked to the particular responsibilities that inhere in particular relationships such as that between parent and child, husband and wife, ruler and subject, friend and friend.  In this sense, particularism holds that there are special responsibilities and duties required in such relationships because of the role one plays.  This is similar to the concept of fiduciary relationships or special relationships between lawyers and clients, doctors and patients, etc. [Note there are other definitions of moral particularism that are far broader and more complex, but this is the one we discussed.]

Self-cultivation - a constant process of self-improvement that is an essential part of Confucianism. One polishes oneself.  Self-cultivation often involves emulation (modeling oneself on real or ideal role models including the Superior Man). Muller translation of the Analects: 1:15 Tzu Kung asked: "What do you think of a poor man who doesn't grovel or a rich man who isn't proud?" Confucius said, "They are good, but not as good as a poor man who is satisfied and a rich man who loves propriety." Tzu Kung said, "The Book of Odes says:

Like cutting and filing,

Grinding and polishing

[{Muller comment} This simile for the process of self-perfection is found often in Confucian texts.]

Is this what you are talking about?"

Confucius said, "Ah, now I can begin to discuss the Book of Odes with Tz'u. I give him a hint and he gets the whole point." ( Accessed 4/11/02 or 8/18/02 ; unless otherwise noted.)

For Mencius, one cultivates the four sprouts with which one is born. One seeks to emulate or model oneself on role models such as the ancient sages, good kings, and the superior man.

Reciprocity/Shu - reciprocity, Golden/Silver Rule; see  --although I think Hooker may be wrong about jen being " reduced primarily to the concept of shu allied with chung". ( accessed 11-12-04).

Yi - right, righteousness, duty, Ames and Hall, Thinking Through Confucius (91): "Yi is one’s own unique disposition to act according to li. One makes one’s own meaning and personal identity. Meaning is fusion of external li and internal yi. Yi is acting appropriately in one’s own situation. " (quoted in N. Gier - lecture notes)  See also the translation comment by Muller:

[Comment {by Muller}] Righteousness with a capital "R" is my rendering of the Chinese i, which has also commonly been translated as righteousness. Although not quite as essential a concept as jen, it is a strongly internalized human capacity. Being attuned to Righteousness allows people to do the proper thing in the proper situation, to give each person, place and thing its proper due. (Excerpt from the Charles Muller Translation of the Analects from Most accessed 4/11/02 and 8/18/02)