Category Archives: Role Ethics

Confucianism and Household Servants?

This post expands a question I asked once in the old Discussions section.

It is sometimes said that the (or a) Ruist picture of moral psychology stresses family because Ruists stress the development of moral sensibilities starting with people’s earliest relationships, which are their childhood relationships at home.  So … what about household servants?

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New Book: Sibau, Reading for the Moral

SUNY has published Maria Franca Sibau, Reading for the Moral: Exemplarity and the Confucian Moral Imagination in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Short Fiction. A new perspective that should shed light on discussions of roles, roles ethics, virtue ethics, and exemplarity! More info is here or below.

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Two Concepts of Roles

There are many images and metaphors that might serve as cores of conceptions of something for which one could use the English word “role.”  One way to look for some is to look at words from other languages.  I’ll look here at two, one from Greek and one from old Chinese.

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Confucius on the family as model

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.

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The meaning of Analects 2.21

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’?”

或謂孔子曰:「子奚不為政?」子曰:「《》云:『孝乎惟孝、友于兄弟,施於有政。』是亦為政,奚其為為政?」

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.

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Is Analects 1.2 about family?

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.

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"When two go together"

This post proposes a book project, for anyone who wants it.

Two kinds of serious conversation

By “serious” conversations I mean conversations that work toward knowledge (at least for one party), or good decision (at least by one party), or designing something complex.

The serious conversations glimpsed in the Analects are mainly between a master and student. The Mencius is more concerned with how an adept should counsel a king. 1A7 looks like a handbook for that.

These two kinds of conversation get their shape and point from inequalities: unequal wisdom and unequal power. Between master and student, one side has the wisdom and the power. Between counselor and king, one side has the wisdom and the other has the power. The point of both conversations, as understood by all parties, is to transmit  some wisdom from the wiser party to the other — within constraints imposed by the powerful party, such as limited time.

One could do a study of these two forms of conversation in Confucian literature: the varieties of each and the guidance on how to do them well. That’s not my main proposal here.

Is it fair to say that when early Confucianism thought about serious conversation, these two are the main kinds it thought about?

Diomedean conversation

The Western tradition saliently values another kind of conversation, aiming more at discovering or creating than transmitting. Continue reading →

Review of Roger Ames, Confucian Role Ethics

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?

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