New book: Mastery, Dependence, and the Ethics of Authority, by Aaron Stalnaker

Oxford University Press has just published my new book on early Confucian social thought, and what contemporary people might learn from it: Mastery, Dependence, and the Ethics of Authority.  The publisher’s page is here.  At present the cheapest way to purchase it is directly from Oxford, with a discount code for 30% off (AAFLYG6).

This comes with hearty thanks to Steve Angle and Bryan Van Norden, who were belatedly revealed as the press’s referees.

And here is the abstract:

This book is an analysis of expertise and authority, and examines classical Confucian conceptions of mastery, dependence, and human relationships in order to suggest new approaches to these issues in ethics and political theory.  Contemporary Westerners are heirs to multiple traditions that are suspicious of authority, especially coercive political authority.  We are also increasingly wary of dependence, which now often seems to signify weakness, neediness, and unworthiness.  Analysts commonly presume that both authority and dependence threaten human autonomy, and are thus intrinsically problematic.  But these judgments are mistaken.  Our capacity for autonomy needs to be cultivated over time through deliberate practices of training, in which we depend on the guidance of virtuous and skilled teachers.  Confucian thought provides a subtle and powerful analysis of one version of this training process, and of the social supports such an education in autonomy requires—as well as the social value of having virtuous and skilled leaders. Early Confucians also argue that human life is marked by numerous interacting forms of dependence, which are not only ineradicable, but in many ways good.  On a Confucian view, it is natural, healthy, and good for people to be deeply dependent on others in a variety of ways across the full human lifespan. They teach us that individual autonomy only develops within a social matrix, structured by relationships of mutual dependence that can either help or hinder it, including a variety of authority relations.

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