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Confucian Role Ethics and the Moral Imagination

January 19, 2010 - 12:00pm
Philippines Conference Room, Encina Hall, 3rd Floor
CEAS CHINA BROWN BAG SERIES Roger T. Ames, Professor of Philosophy, University of Hawai'i In a Confucian world, because persons are born into family relations that are considered constitutive of their persons, their “natures (xing)” (or perhaps better, “natural tendencies”) are a combination of native instinct and the cultivated cognitive, moral, aesthetic, religious sensibilities provided by their family locus and initial conditions. That is, persons from their inchoate beginnings are to be understood as embedded in and nurtured by unique, transactional patterns of relations, rather than as discrete entities defined by common traits. The notion of li;, or “achieving propriety in one's roles and relations,” locates moral conduct within a thick and richly textured pattern of relations. Confucian “role ethics”—how to live optimally within the roles and relations that constitute one—originates in and radiates out from the concrete family feelings that constitute the intergenerational relations that obtain among children and their elders and the interdependent roles that they live. Such family feeling is at once ordinary and everyday, and yet at the same time, is arguably the most extraordinary aspect of the human experience. The cultivated and distinctive individuality—defined relationally— that is achieved through associated living is the ultimate reward for living the complex moral life. For this reason, Confucian terms such as ren; and de;—“consummatory conduct” and “excellence” respectively—far from being uniformities, are generalizations made from the life histories of particular persons, and are thus often illustrated by appeal to particular models of conduct rather than by invoking abstract principles or definitions. That is, instruction in Confucian role ethics is largely effected through emulation.
Free and open to the public.
Event Sponsor: 
Center for East Asian Studies
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