Modesty, Confucianism, and active indifference

Wai Lam William SIN

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


How do people acquire modesty? A simple answer is: if people see that modesty is a worthy trait, they will incorporate it into their character. However, sometimes the knowledge that one is modest would undermine one’s modesty. So, Driver claims that the modest person must not know his merits. If we are to accept Driver’s claim, it would be difficult for us to conceive how learners can consciously acquire this virtue. In response, Bommarito puts forward a more moderate claim. The modest person does not need to be ignorant of his good qualities; even if he knows about them, he must not pay attention to them. Bommarito’s explanation opens a space for Asian philosophers to engage in the debate. Asian philosophers generally emphasize the importance of practice and how practitioners must attend to the state of their consciousness so that they are not carried away by their desires. With regard to this, I put forward two ideas in this paper. First, I propose a third account of modesty, the knowledge account. I argue that modesty, in its worthy form, requires an agent’s understanding of his temptations and weaknesses. Second, I will explain the Confucian view of moral education in regard to this discussion. I introduce strategies regarding learners’ acquisition of virtues, including self-cultivation and cultivation through following rituals in interpersonal affairs. I believe that the Confucian view of moral education would enable agents to acquire virtues without the self-denial that troubles Driver and Bommarito. Copyright © 2022 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-168
JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
Issue number2
Early online dateJun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023


Sin, W. (2023). Modesty, Confucianism, and active indifference. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 55(2), 158-168. doi: 10.1080/00131857.2022.2082939


  • Modesty
  • Virtue ethics
  • Comparative philosophy
  • Confucianism


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