Columbia Society for Comparative Philosophy lecture on Confucian ethics March 22 @5:30pm

THE COLUMBIA SOCIETY FOR COMPARATIVE PHILOSOPHY

Welcomes ANDREW LAMBERT,  Department of Philosophy, Wester New England University

With responses from Warren Frisina, Dean of Honors College, Associate Professor of Religion, Hofstra University

Please join us at Columbia University Department of Religion on March 22, 2013 at 5:30pm for his lecture entitled

A Confucian Account of Ethical Obligation?

ABSTRACT: The Confucian doctrine of the five cardinal relationships is often taken as a defining feature of the Confucian tradition, with its emphasis on family life and relationships. However, objections arising from more modern ethical ideals threaten to undermine the doctrine, or at least render it irrelevant to contemporary ethics. I present three such objections.

In seeking to deflect the objections, I suggest a different way of understanding the purpose and effects of the five relationships doctrine. Instead of seeing the doctrine as a constellation of concrete practical norms and duties pertaining to individuals occupying certain social roles and positions, I suggest we understand the five relationships doctrine as a kind of training device, which cultivates a certain kind of personal sensibility. This is a sense of obligation to engage with and find a basis for familiarity with those people encountered in the subject’s local social world.

I argue that when understood in this way, the discourse of the five cardinal relationships is not subject to the three common objections noted above, and presents a distinctive form of ethical obligation.

I finish by locating this account of ethical obligation within a larger moral vision, thereby suggesting this is a genuine form of ethical obligation rather than mere etiquette or psychological conditioning.

Time: 5:30-7:30 pm
Place: Rm. 101 in the Department of Religion 80 Claremont Avenue
http://goo.gl/maps/zfUKH

PLEASE VISIT OUR WEBSITE:
http://www.cbs.columbia.edu/cscp/

One reply

  1. Bill Haines says:

    Thanks for the announcement! Sounds like a great talk. I would love to go. As I can’t, I’ll offer a few thoughts here based on the abstract. Maybe there can be a conversation here too. I’d really like to hear more.

    Andrew mentions
    “a sense of obligation to engage with and find a basis for familiarity with those people encountered in the subject’s local social world.”

    That sounds to me like an interesting and promising idea. What it amounts to depends in large part, I suppose, on whether it is supposed to be one norm among many or in some sense morally all-encompassing.

    He writes,
    “Instead of seeing the doctrine [of the five relations] as a constellation of concrete practical norms and duties pertaining to individuals occupying certain social roles and positions, I suggest we understand the five relationships doctrine as a kind of training device, which cultivates a certain kind of personal sensibility”

    The two things aren’t of course mutually exclusive. On the contrary, at first glance the second seems to imply the first. What is the training device if not a concrete set of norms intended to have a training effect?

    One answer might be that it is a concrete set of norms for the undeveloped only: for people who need concrete norms because they are still in need of having the right attitudes trained up.

    But in what might be especially or definitively relevant passages, Youzi argues on the basis of the training (and maintaining) effect, that relatively narrow or concrete virtues such as filial piety, rituals, good faith and a generally reverent demeanor should not be left behind, but rather should be stuck to, because they are essential not just to the development, but more importantly to the maintenance of broader virtues such as ren and yi (LY 1.2, 1.12, 1.13). “Here’s what doesn’t work: to [try to ] be harmonious on the basis of an understanding of harmony, without regulating [the enterprise] by ritual: this doesn’t work” – Youzi, 1.12. My two papers on Chinese philosophy talk about the psychological/ cognitive mechanisms by which the training and maintenance would work; see contributor blurb for references.

    An alternative answer might be that the contrast Andrew has in mind is rather between a set of concrete norms with no further point, and a set of concrete norms whose point is the training effect.

    A third answer might be that the intended contrast is between (1) a set of concrete norms considered as a set of norms for everyone, and (2) a set of concrete norms considered as appropriate for a particular kind of society on the basis of ideas about training effects, ideas that (a) as a matter of fact happen to imply, or (b) were understood to imply, that different sets of norms might be appropriate in very different circumstances for the same kinds of reason.

    Different sorts of arguments might be relevant to supporting reading (a) or reading (b) of Confucianism.

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