On Ritual and Legislation





Confucianism, Ritual, Law, Legislation, Virtue


Confucian thinkers have traditionally stressed the importance of li 禮, or “ritual” as it is commonly translated, and believed that ancient sages had established an ideal set of rituals for people to follow. Now, most scholars of Confucianism understand li as distinct from law, and hence do not typically discuss Confucian sages as great lawgivers. Nevertheless, I suggest that there is something valuable to be learned from considering the similarities and dissimilarities between great lawgivers and the sages. In particular, this essay reviews some of the challenges for, and virtues of, great legislators, and compares and contrasts these with the challenges for, and virtues of, master inventors of ritual, with the aim of showing how such observations might deepen our understanding of the conception of sages in the Confucian tradition, while perhaps also bringing out certain insights about good lawgivers. I end by using these reflections to point to some challenges for developing rituals to fit our modern context.

Author Biography

Eric L Hutton, University of Utah

Professor, Department of Philosophy


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How to Cite

Hutton, Eric L. 2021. “On Ritual and Legislation”. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 13 (2):45-64. https://doi.org/10.24204/ejpr.2021.3333.



Special Issue - Ritual, Confucianism and Asian Philosophy of Religion