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Frontiers of Philosophy in China

Front. Philos. China    2014, Vol. 9 Issue (4) : 570-585
research-article |
An Eco-Ethical Interpretation of Confucian Tianren Heyi
YAO Xinzhong()
School of Philosophy, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China
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Opposed to a commonly held interpretation that Confucian discourse regarding tianren heyi (天人合一) is simply a human-centred philosophical fusion of humanity and nature, this article argues that the Confucian discourse is in fact composed of two contradictory orientations, one ren-centred (roughly equivalent to “anthropocentric”) and the other tian-centred (“nature-centric” in a specific sense), which generally correspond to the two major camps of environmental philosophy in the West in the twentieth century. It will be further argued that the two orientations of the Confucian view have different yet related functions with regard to environmental protection and conservation: the tian-centred understanding establishes a metaphysical and religious framework for Confucian eco-ethical norms, in which ecological prohibitions and policies are built into the political and religious infrastructure, while the ren-centred orientation adds practical values and meanings to the ontological care of the human relation to the environment. In modern times, the two orientations of Confucian eco-ethics are under further development, moving away from being dualistic philosophies and converging on the eco-ethical way of life. Contemporary Confucians are investigating how the two traditional “orientations” can be unified as one holistic perspective which could provide theoretical and practical guidance for our understanding of the human position in the universe, the harmony between humans and nature, and the value of environmental protection and conservation.

Keywords environmental ethics      Confucianism      anthropocentrism      eco-centrism     
Issue Date: 11 December 2014
 Cite this article:   
YAO Xinzhong. An Eco-Ethical Interpretation of Confucian Tianren Heyi[J]. Front. Philos. China, 2014, 9(4): 570-585.
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