Chen Weigang: Confucian Humanism and Theodicy

Confucian Humanism and Theodicy

Weigang Chen, Philosophy and Religious Studies Program, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, The University of Macau, Av. Padre Tomás Pereira Taipa, Macau. E-mail:


This article explores the puzzle of Confucian “divine humanism” in light of the Weberian scheme of religious rationalization. Relating the Confucian humanistic orientation to current discussions of the phenomenon of “amoral familism,” I argue that the Confucian puzzle calls into question the cornerstone of Max Weber’s comparative religion, namely his influential contrast between religious legitimation and theodicy. In particular, the puzzle suggests that in pre-Confucian China, there was no legitimate cosmic-social world order to which Confucianism managed to adjust, let alone to affirm. As a matter of fact, it was the Confucian solution to the problem of theodicy that laid the foundation for the legitimacy of the ethical polity. Hence, inverting what Weber and neo-Weberian theorists have asserted about the religious breakthroughs in the Axial Age, theodicy constituted the religious prerequisite for political legitimation.

80:4 Journal of the American Academy of Religion 932-970 (2012).

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