Joseph Chan: "Social Justice and Welfare in Early Confucianism: A reconstruction"


Location: 242 O'Shaughnessy Hall (View on

Joseph Chan

Global Scholar and Visiting Professor, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University

Distinguished Research Fellow, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (from February 2023)


When: November 10, 2022 from 4-5 pm in 242 O'Shaughnessy Hall 

Title:  Social Justice and Welfare in Early Confucianism: A reconstruction


In this talk, I develop a Confucian perfectionist perspective on social justice and welfare. I argue that the principles of resource distribution in Mencius can be conceived as principles of justice, which I call principles of sufficiency. The aim of social justice is to enable every member of a community to live a good life. What is morally significant is whether each person has sufficient resources to lead a good life, not whether each has the same amount. The Confucian conception of the good life sets a rough standard for sufficiency—namely, the amount a person generally needs to live a decent material life and feel materially secure enough to pursue the higher, ethical life. Justice as sufficiency for all, however, is only part of the larger Confucian conception of the social ideal. I argue that Mencius envisages a multilevel social system of provision in which the family, the village or commune, as well as the government all have specific roles to play—social justice is the foundation of this social system; the family and commune (or social relationships and networks) provide familial care and mutual aid; and when they are not sufficient, the government steps in to provide direct welfare assistance. This Confucian social ideal integrates justice and care, recognizing both individual merit and personal responsibility.