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

Eirik Lang Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


The political philosophies of Kongzi, Mengzi, and Xunzi can fruitfully be understood as focusing substantially on politically relevant merit – and as having conceptions of politically relevant merit intertwined with their conceptions of morality and virtue. In short, on their account, politically relevant merit finds its necessary foundation in morally relevant merit. In critiquing this position, Han Fei questions four positions that must be true in order for the early Confucian position to succeed: 1) Politically relevant merit is necessarily tied to moral merit; 2) Virtuous individuals who possess the relevant moral merits can reliably be identified even by those who are not themselves virtuous; 3) Moral cultivation is actually possible; and 4) Those qualities that make someone virtuous can reliably be ascertained. This paper examines the worries that Han Fei has with these positions and offers up an account of Han Fei’s own account of politically relevant merit – a non-moral alternative tied to task specific competencies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342–362
Number of pages21
JournalCulture and Dialogue
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

User-Defined Keywords

  • meritocracy
  • Han Fei
  • Legalism
  • Confucianism
  • political philosophy
  • virtue
  • political ethics


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