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.
“UH Mānoa Philosophy Professor Roger T. Ames has been presented with a 2013 Confucius Culture Prize at the Sixth Annual World Confucian Conference in Shandong, China. The prizes are sponsored by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ministry of Culture and the provincial government of Shandong Province—the home province of the sage Confucius.”
The full press release can be found here: http://manoa.hawaii.edu/news/article.php?aId=6047
Ryan Nichols and Craig Ihara have jointly written an extensive review of Roger Ames’s Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary. Here is an excerpt from that review, posted here with permission. Please address any comments to Ryan and Craig.
This is a selection from our draft review, the final version of which will be published soon in Dao, of Roger Ames’ newest book Confucian Role Ethics. We post it here in order to continue conversation about this important theory. -Nichols & Ihara
There are many subjects to discuss in Confucian Role Ethics. The following discussion addresses several of the most salient issues.
Methodological problems arise in Ames’ discussion on pp. 20-35 in regard to the need to make generalizations about China, in opposition to others who say this is inadvisable. Ames’ arguments on behalf of making generalizations are somewhat weak, including assertions such as: “the only thing more dangerous than striving to make responsible cultural generalizations is failing to make them” (23). Generalizations about certain philosophical continuities between thinkers in Han and in Warring States China are appropriate and permissible so long as they are justified by textual and historical evidence. While Ames may be correct that generalizations are important for understanding Confucianism, the unaddressed but more important question is: under what evidential conditions are such generalizations justified?