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“Ascending the Hall”: Style and Moral Improvement in the Analects

From: Philosophy East and West
Volume 59, Number 4, October 2009
pp. 503-522 | 10.1353/pew.0.0073



The moral vision of the Analects notably includes among our moral responsibilities the need to style behavior such that the propriety of one’s dispositions is evident in one’s manner and demeanor. While the sage effortlessly fulfills this responsibility, the moral learner must actively strive to shape her demeanor and manner. This essay considers her resources for doing so where becoming effortlessly sagely is a distant, if not unreachable, possibility. While the Analects clearly proffers the li as the principal mechanism for developing an appropriate style, the models provided by Zigong and Zilu, two of the text’s most vividly depicted moral learners, demonstrate what an improvement in the domain of style requires and significantly indicate an account of moral style in which formal propriety must be vouchsafed by the personally revelatory.