A Han Feizian Worry with Confucian Meritocracy – and a Non-Moral Alternative

Eirik Lang Harris

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper


The most prominent advocacy of political meritocracy in recent years has come from those who see themselves inspired by the Confucian philosophical tradition. Unfortunately, they often ignore competing Chinese visions of political meritocracy and direct challenges to the Confucian vision from within the Chinese tradition. The Confucian conception of political merit is intertwined to its conception of morality and as such virtue is seen as an essential component. To defend such a position and its applicability, they need to show both that inculcation of virtue is possible and that these virtues are politically relevant. One prominent historic critic of Confucianism. Han Feizi, worries about both claims. While agreeing that political merit matters and that ministers and bureaucrats should be chosen on the basis of their merit, he has a vastly different conception of what constitutes politically relevant merit, one that is both is both task specific and amoral in nature. What Confucians fail to grasp, thinks Han Feizi, is that what leads to virtue is non-identical to what leads to a well-ordered, flourishing state. At times, a choice must be made between following morality and securing the state. Insofar as Confucianism requires moral virtue as a core component of merit, it not only misidentifies what constitutes politically relevant merit, it focuses on and characterizes as meritorious trails that are actually detrimental to a well-ordered and flourishing state.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2019
EventCenter for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy - Monthly Talk - City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Duration: 27 Sept 2019 → …


TalkCenter for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy - Monthly Talk
Country/TerritoryHong Kong
Period27/09/19 → …
Internet address


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