Palgrave Macmillan has published P. Steven Sangren, Filial Obsessions: Chinese Patriliny and Its Discontents. A work of anthropology, but it looks to have much to say to philosophers interested in issues related to filial piety. More information here.
Here and there I have argued that Confucius did not think family virtue is the root of ren 仁; far from it. In defense of that claim I’ll now try to answer the question: how then do so many scholars think he did?
Confucius’ remark at Analects 1.6 is often cited to show that he thought proper moral development begins with filial piety and then extends that attitude to ever-larger groups of people (ever less intensely). I shall argue that the remark does not display such a view. Confucius did not in general envision moral progress as extension.
Many hold that for Confucius the family is the model for organized political society in some sense; that Confucius regarded the norms for relations beyond the family as largely based on the norms for relations with kin. Here I follow Joseph Chan in challenging that view.
Someone said to Confucius, “Master, why don’t you engage in government?” The Master said, “The Book of Documents says, ‘Filial! But be filial, and a friend to your brothers, thus contributing to government.’ Why then do that other kind of ‘engaging in government’?”
I’ll suppose for the sake of argument that the reported exchange is authentic, and argue that it is not significant evidence of Confucius’ views. Confucius is not aiming to communicate his views here.
Here are some reasons to think that Youzi did not regard family as the root of humanity or of the Way. (I used to think he did.)
Most of my argument focuses on defending a view held by Soothill, Leys, Chin, and maybe Lau and Slingerland: that by 弟 in Analects 1.2, Youzi meant elder-respect, a virtue commonly associated specifically with life outside the family. It would follow that according to 1.2, only one of the two parts of the root of humanity is specifically a family virtue. If 孝 and 弟 have something relevantly in common for Youzi, family isn’t it.
Did Confucius think that if one of us has general virtue, or some particular virtue such as courage or filial piety, that general or particular virtue will have a substantial tendency to spread directly to the people around her, even if she holds no government position?
Here I’ll survey Confucius’ statements in the Analects and conclude that the answer is No. Confucius probably did not hold that view. (I gave the opposite reading in both my published papers on Chinese philosophy.)
(Moved to top for article discussion as a featured post – March 12, 2014)
The latest issue of Dao has been released. And in keeping with our new collaboration with the journal, one article has been set to free access:
Filial Obligations: A Comparative Study, by Cecilia Wee
Well, first, I have to thank Cecilia Wee for the very stimulating piece. I hope I have not misunderstood or misrepresented too much of it in the following remarks. I look forward to her comments and discussion by all.
As Steve and Manyul announced last month, with each new issue of Dao the blog will host a discussion of one of the issue’s articles, and the journal will make that article freely available online. Here I’m kicking off the series with a discussion of Loy Hui-chieh’s “On the Argument for Jian’ai” (Dao 12.4, available here).
Loy’s article treats the Mohists’ main argument for inclusive care (jiān ài 兼愛), focusing on the role played in it by appeals to virtues such as filial piety that are inevitably partial. Fundamental to his treatment is the view (which I share) that inclusive care did not require absolute impartiality—it did not imply that we have equal obligations to all people, or that we should treat them the same, or feel the same about them. Loy thus undermines one common sort or argument against the Mohists, that inclusive care is incompatible with the partial virtues and is therefore morally dubious. However, this does not mean that the Mohists’ own appeals to the partial virtues succeed, and Loy goes on to argue that they do not. I’ll sketch Loy’s argument, and then make critical comments on two points.
The government enacted a law on Monday aimed at compelling adult children to visit their aging parents. The law, called “Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People,” has nine clauses that lay out the duties of children and their obligation to tend to the “spiritual needs of the elderly.”
Children should go home “often” to visit their parents, the law said, and occasionally send them greetings. Companies and work units should give employees enough time off so they can make parental visits.
The law was passed in December by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress. It does not stipulate any punishments for people who neglect their parents. Nevertheless, that officials felt the need to make filial duty a legal matter is a reflection of the monumental changes taking place throughout Chinese society.
I was at the APA in Washington DC last week, and it was great to get a chance to hear about some very interesting work in Chinese philosophy. A couple of papers got me thinking about the reasoning behind the emphasis on filiality (xiao 孝) in classical Ruism. Whether Ruism gives too much weight to filiality at the expense of other values has been debated recently, and an issue in Dao a year or two ago presented some of this debate. At the conference, I started wondering about a slightly different problem: do Ruists put too much faith in the assumption that someone who is filial will have other moral virtues as well? Is there good reason to think this is generally true? Continue reading “Do Ruists overemphasize filial feeling?”
There is a nice profile of Erin Cline and her new book project, “Moral Cultivation and the Family in Early Chinese Philosophy,” on the Georgetown University website. Congratulations, Erin!
I’m interested in hearing what, if anything, people think the crazy stories about the sage king Shun and his awful family are doing in the Mencius. I’m thinking especially about sections 5A/2 and 5A/3, which tell us how Shun responded to his family’s attempts to murder him, but 5A/1, 4A/26, and 7A/35 are also on-topic, and maybe 4A/28 and 5A/4 (and others?) as well.
One reason I bring this up is that I know that Manyul, Steve, and I have very different ideas about this, and maybe others do too. So it should be fun to talk about. Continue reading “What Is Shun's Awful Family Doing in the Mencius?”