Confucian Conceptions of Human Intelligence

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The work of Confucius has been—and continues to be—part of the foundation of Chinese culture. Understanding his work provides insights into many aspects of Chinese societies, ranging from politics to the arts, from economies to education systems. The present article summarizes Confucius’ view of human intelligence, comparing and contrasting it with Western theory and research on related constructs. Confucius’ formulation encompassed qualities such as (a) the ability to identify areas of intelligence in others, (b) self-knowledge, (c) problem-solving skills, (d) verbal fluency, (e) the ability to think actively and flexibly, and (f) the capacity to make healthy personal decisions. Confucius and his followers also developed classification systems for categorizing individuals based on their intelligence. For average people, Confucius held an incremental view of intelligence that relied heavily on extensive study, inquiry, reflection, and transfer. For people with very high or very low intelligence, however, he saw intelligence as being determined by heaven or their inborn nature. A thorough understanding of Confucian conceptions of intelligence provides insight into the present-day study of intelligence within China.

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