How Many Confucianisms?
Confucianisms seem to be proliferating. Most of us these days have heard of “(Contemporary) New Confucianism” (sometimes also rendered as “Contemporary Neo-Confucianism; in Chinese typically 当代新儒学). The ideas of Mou and Tang et al are also called “The Learning of the Heartmind and Nature (心性之学).” Jiang Qing and others have contrasted this inner, morality-focused Confucianism with their own preferred external, institution-focused variety that Jiang calls “Political Confucianism 政治儒学.” In English, Daniel Bell has sometimes spoken as a proponent of “Left Confucianism,” and in a new book, Fan Ruiping advocates what he calls “Reconstructionist Confucianism.” As I finish up a review of this latter book and settle in to write an essay on “contemporary Confucian conceptions of social justice,” I find myself wondering: how many Confucianisms are there, or should there be? As many Confucianisms as Confucian authors? Does some authority — perhaps community-based — get to decide? In my review of Professor Fan’s book, I prepare to launch into an engagement with Fan’s arguments with the following words:
The contemporary, globally informed philosophical development of Confucianism is still in its infancy. We need to encourage multiple voices and then to engage with them both charitably and critically: this is the best way to seek the Confucianism — or perhaps Confucianisms — that can contribute the most to our various communities around the globe.
You can see that I’m unsure of whether in the end, we should all agree on a single best or true version, or whether different communities — to say nothing of different times — might appropriately have different Confucianisms. What do you think?