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  • Confucian Perfectionism: A Response to Kim, Angle, Wong, Li, Chiu, and Ames
  • Joseph Chan (bio)

I would like to begin by thanking all the contributors to this symposium, especially Yvonne Chiu, who organized a book conference at the University of Hong Kong and edited this symposium. I am very grateful to the contributors for their thoughtful and challenging comments, from which I have learned a great deal. Within the limited space of this article, I regret that I am not able to address fully or adequately all the issues raised by the contributors.

Response to Sungmoon Kim

I thank Sungmoon Kim for raising challenging questions about some of the central claims in my book. One of these is that the early Confucian conception of political authority consists of two elements: (1) An authority’s rationale is to protect and promote the well-being of the people, and its justification and legitimacy depend in part on its ability to serve this purpose. I call this the service conception, a term taken from the writings of Joseph Raz. (2) A truly authoritative political relationship is marked by a mutual commitment on both sides—the rules are committed to serve the people, and the ruled willingly submit to the rules. The trust and voluntary submission of the people thus play an important part in constituting authority. So political authority depends on its ability to serve and obtain the trust and voluntary submission of the people. It is therefore a perfectionist conception; authority contributes to well-being in two ways: it instrumentally promotes the well-being of the people, and it contributes to the good life by making possible an ethically valuable and satisfying political relationship.1

Kim does not challenge this account as an interpretation of early Confucianism, but raises critical questions about the service conception’s implications.2 In my book I argue that the service conception implies that the political rights attached to a legitimate authority are in part justified instrumentally by the contribution they make to the betterment of people’s lives.3 From this I further argue for a general view of political rights, which holds that the distribution of political rights or powers, and the institutional form that they take, should be evaluated in part by the service conception. Because citizenship in a political democracy, too, is a form of political right or office, it has to pass the test of the service conception. Now Kim raises doubts about this extension, arguing that it is one thing for the offices of political authority (“which concerns only the ruler”) to be justified by their service to the people, but it is quite another thing for all political rights, including citizens’ political right to elect their [End Page 82] leaders, to be similarly justified. Kim believes that there is a “logical jump between [these] two claims.”

I am not convinced that there is a logical jump in my argument, which takes the following form:

  1. 1. Political authority (or political office) is to be evaluated (at least in part) by the service conception.

  2. 2. Citizenship is a form of political authority (or political office).

  3. 3. So citizenship is to be evaluated (at least in part) by the service conception.

This argument is logically valid, and so there is no “logical jump” as such. If Kim wants to resist the conclusion, he needs to challenge the truth of (1) or (2). Since Kim does not reject (1) in his article, he has to challenge (2) to resist the conclusion. Kim says that I “take for granted” that citizenship is a form of political office and that I offer no explanations as to why this is so. Actually, I do provide a brief one in the book, in which I say that when citizens cast votes to elect their leaders,

they are sharing in and exercising political power and are therefore actively engaging in the act of ruling. . . . Collectively, citizens assert a great deal of influence on the choice of rulers, the making of laws and policies, and hence the livelihood of the people. There is a great deal of truth in what the American judge Louis Brandeis said: in a democracy, the...


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