Primary Thinkers of Legalism

Han Feizi (d. 233 BCE)

  • Believed that people act according to one principle, avoiding punishment.
  • Was a member of the aristocracy and believed that strict law was necessary to control society.
  • Was a part of the ruling Han family of China during the Warring States Period of Chinese history, when regional warlords were battling to control areas of the nation.
  • Was a follower of Confucian thinking for a time, and tried to travel teaching its precepts. Unfortunately, he had a significant stuttering problem and was not effective as a teacher.

Xun Zi (c. 310-237 BCE)

  • Primarily a Confucian scholar who believed that humans are innately selfish and evil and that the natural state of human societies is Anarchy, endless wars and chaos.
  • Was a strong influence on the thinking of Han Feizi.

Basic Philosophy

Fa ()

  • The law code must be clearly written and publically available.
  • All people except the ruler are equal under the law.
  • Laws should reward those who follow them and punish severely those who do not.


  • Morality is unimportant in Legalism.
  • The rulers should use special methods and “secrets” to make sure that they retain control of the state.

Shi ()

  • Legitimacy, charisma and power
  • It is the position of ruler, not the person, that holds power.
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