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.