Critiquing Heavily Normative Conceptions of Harmony: Thoughts from the Han Feizi

Eirik Lang Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


The idea of harmony is valued in a wide variety of ways by a wide variety of thinkers in early China. It is certainly most prominent in Confucian texts, for which it is a clear and distinctive good both morally and politically. However, texts like the Laozi and the Zhuangzi also have normative visions that can be conceptualized in terms of harmony. Furthermore, harmony has an important role to play even in much more “realist” texts such as the Han Feizi. This paper will argue that it is possible to think through Han Fei’s political system from the perspective of a broader concept of harmony, and that in doing so, several important points may be revealed. First, insofar as harmony has a positive role to play, it must be systematized and turned into an objective standard. Second, this objective standard must be hooked up to the overarching cosmic dao, and third, this conception of harmony is necessarily stripped of any moral normativity. Thinking through harmony in this way may have a range of benefits not only for understanding the concept in its original historical context, but also in thinking through ways in which it may be of value today. It will perhaps force us to realize that there are a range of incompatible conceptions of harmony. As such, there may be a need to evaluate the disputations over these various conceptions of harmony as we try to ascertain what, if anything, from them may profitably be brought into conversation with contemporary political philosophy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-180
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Confucian Philosophy and Culture
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020

User-Defined Keywords

  • harmony
  • Han Feizi
  • Confucianism
  • Legalism
  • political philosophy
  • political order


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