About this Course
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Subtitles: English

100% online

Start instantly and learn at your own schedule.

Flexible deadlines

Reset deadlines in accordance to your schedule.

Beginner Level


Subtitles: English

Syllabus - What you will learn from this course

1 hour to complete

Introduction: The World of Confucius

1 video (Total 4 min), 5 readings
5 readings
Course Overview10m
Connect With Us10m
Your Instructor10m
Code of Conduct10m
3 hours to complete

Part 1 - The World of Confucius

Meaningful engagement with Confucian philosophy requires a disciplined and informed imagination. Confucius (or Kongzi, in Chinese) flourished in a time of considerable change and political instability. Some understanding of the world of early China would be critical, as Confucian ideas did not grow out of a historical vacuum. In this context, we will examine the Analects—known in Chinese as Lunyu—a compilation of sayings and conversations attributed to Confucius that is essential to our understanding of Confucian philosophy.

11 videos (Total 100 min), 1 reading, 1 quiz
11 videos
L1.2 - The Ideal of Harmony in Chinese Philosophy5m
L1.3 - Early China: The Roots of Confucian Philosophy9m
L1.4 - The Roots of Confucian Philosophy: Shang Culture and Religion8m
L1.5 - Shang Rituals and Divination9m
L1.6 - "Heaven" and the World of Zhou Dynasty China12m
L1.7 - The Classical Tradition before Confucius: The Six Arts and the Six Classics13m
L1.8 - The Classic of Changes (Yijing)12m
L1.9 - The Life of Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.)6m
L1.10 - The Analects of Confucius7m
L1.11 - Biographical and Autobiographical Sayings in the Analects9m
1 reading
Lecture Materials (Week 1 - Part 1)1h
1 practice exercise
MCQ (Week 1)30m
2 hours to complete

Part 2A - The Vision of Confucius

The teachings of Confucius are perhaps best understood as a major philosophical renovation of the early Chinese intellectual scene. We will start with the cardinal concept of the junzi, the moral and cultural exemplar that stands at the heart of the Confucian vision. What are the characteristics of the ideal junzi? Can one become a junzi and if so, how can that be accomplished? In this context, some of the key Confucian ethical concepts such as ren (humaneness or humanity), li (propriety), and yi (rightness) will be introduced.

8 videos (Total 86 min), 1 reading
8 videos
L2.2 - The Exemplary Junzi8m
L2.3 - The Primacy of Li10m
L2.4 - The Regulative and Constitutive Power of Li11m
L2.5 - The Centrality of Ren: Humanity and Benevolence11m
L2.6 - The Bond between Ren and Li14m
L2.7 - Humanity (Ren), Proper Conduct (Li), and Rightness (Yi)7m
L2.8 - The Responsive Mediation of Rightness (Yi)10m
1 reading
Lecture Materials (Week 2 - Part 2a)1h
4 hours to complete

Part 2B - The Vision of Confucius (cont'd)

In this same context (refer to week 2), as we continue our guided tour, as it were, of the rich intellectual landscape that is Confucianism, we examine briefly the concept of “filial piety” (xiao), the key concern with learning and education (xue), which extends far beyond academic interests, and other related concepts. In addition, I would like to raise the question as to whether there is a religious or spiritual dimension to Confucian philosophy, and if so, how does it relate to ethics and political philosophy. There is much to discuss here, and we will return to the question of the impact of the Confucian vision on Chinese culture towards the end of this course.

9 videos (Total 113 min), 1 reading, 1 quiz
9 videos
L2.10 - The Ethical Transformation of the Family11m
L2.11 - Learning and Self-Cultivation10m
L2.12 - The Confucian Conception of Learning9m
L2.13 - The Integral Play of Confucian Virtues10m
L2.14 - The Transformative Way of Ethical Engagement16m
L2.15 - The Ethics of Everyday Life14m
L2.16 - The Unity of Ethics and Spirituality14m
L2.17 - Summary Remarks13m
1 reading
Lecture Materials (Week 3 - Part 2b)1h
1 practice exercise
MCQ (Week 3)40m
3 hours to complete

Part 3A - The Unfolding of Confucianism

“Confucianism” is an abstract generalization. While it may serve as a convenient label, it must be used with care. What needs to be made clear is that the Confucian tradition is dynamic, interacting with different currents of thought as well as harbouring rich internal differences. In this part of the course, some of the main rivals to Confucian philosophy in early China will be introduced. These concern what have come to be called “Mohism,” “Daoism,” and “Legalism” in classical Chinese philosophy.

7 videos (Total 117 min), 1 reading
7 videos
L3.2 - The Daoist Critique of Confucian Philosophy17m
L3.3 - The "Legalist" Way of Governance18m
L3.4 - Introduction to Mencius15m
L3.5 - The Way of the True King15m
L3.6 - The Incipient Goodness of Human Nature17m
L3.7 - Ethical Self-cultivation in Mencian Perspectives19m
1 reading
Lecture Materials (Week 4 - Part 3a)1h
6 ReviewsChevron Right

Top reviews from Explorations in Confucian Philosophy

By ABMar 20th 2019

This course is amazing! The teacher is great and the subject is super interesting. I've completed like 20 Coursera courses and I can say that this is one of the best courses of Coursera. Thanks a lot.

By JSJun 2nd 2018

I loved every minute of this. Really well structured, very interesting and engaging and I genuinely feel I gained a lot. Thank you!



Alan K. L. Chan

Toh Puan Mahani Idris Daim Chair Professor of Humanities & Social Sciences, Vice President (Alumni and Advancement)

About Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Young and research-intensive, Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) is ranked 13th globally. It is also placed 1st amongst the world’s best young universities. NTU has about 33,000 students in the colleges of engineering, science, business, education, humanities, arts, social sciences. Its medical school is set up jointly with Imperial College London. A melting pot of international award-winning scientists, young talents and eminent global partners, NTU is also home to several world-class research institutes that builds on its strengths in interdisciplinary research....

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Once you enroll for a Certificate, you’ll have access to all videos, quizzes, and programming assignments (if applicable). Peer review assignments can only be submitted and reviewed once your session has begun. If you choose to explore the course without purchasing, you may not be able to access certain assignments.

  • When you purchase a Certificate you get access to all course materials, including graded assignments. Upon completing the course, your electronic Certificate will be added to your Accomplishments page - from there, you can print your Certificate or add it to your LinkedIn profile. If you only want to read and view the course content, you can audit the course for free.

  • This course will equip you with a better understanding of the Confucian tradition and how it has shaped Chinese society and culture over the centuries. It should help broaden your perspective in reflecting on fundamental questions of ethics and culture, which are of critical importance to today’s globalized and technology-driven world.

  • No, knowledge of the Chinese language is not necessary. Some key Chinese terms will be introduced, but they do not require prior knowledge of Chinese.

  • All you need is a computer with an internet connection, the time to read, reflect, write, and discuss with your peers.

More questions? Visit the Learner Help Center.