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« Reply to Eric X. Li: Cultures are not Incommensurable and the CCP is not Confucuian | Main | On Global Cultural Influence in Modern/Post-Modern Times »

May 21, 2012


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Very interesting indeed, Mr Crane. It strikes me as interesting, as well, because Mozi was also known for his rejection of all violence except that undertaken under the most stringent construction of self-defence.

In Confucius' and Mencius' partial defence, though, vis-a-vis Mozi, their idea of 'family-first' morality was not so much a normative claim as an empirical one: people learn how to be good from their families, so naturally they will learn to care for them first and strongest. Mencius observed that even xiaoren will take care of their families; what follows from this is that the junzi will take what s/he learned in the family and extend it outward to all people: treating all elderly as one's own parents, and treating all young as one's own children.

The valid comparison would be between utilitarian ethics versus the ethics of care: a utilitarian parent would sacrifice his own child if it meant saving five others, where a parent following the ethics of care would save her own child first. So I tend to think Confucianism isn't necessarily more hierarchical in this sense, but rather tries to put forward a metaethical critique, rather than an ethical one, of Mozi's 'impartial care'.

Regarding Mozi's liberalism, though, I think you may be selling him slightly short. The tension between liberalism and the authoritarianism you describe is far less tense than first appears: if one is solely concerned with protecting negative, individual-level rights, it does not necessarily follow that a small or unintrusive government is the proper means to bring it about. The example per excellence of a classical-liberal theorist advocating an all-powerful, centralised state is Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan - though other examples abound. Fichte, student of Kant, advocated basically a universal police and surveillance state, ostensibly in order to protect absolute freedom of movement and decision.

I think you're right, though, that this probably isn't what a human-rights lawyer like Chen Guangcheng has in mind...

It is encouraging to me that there is discussion about inclusivity and the equal concern and treatment of all, not just famaily. In a modern world where we struggle to gain a bigger share for ourselves and our families are we missing the point and have we forgotten that collaboration is better than competition? I have written a children's book to re-teach a philosophy that is common to Indigenous cultures regarding energy transference back to the Earth en masse. This particualar philosophy takes a mass practice in order for it to be effective and it used to be in mass practice because as far as I know, the Indigenous used to be the majority of human inhabitants that walked the Earth, if not the only. This philosophy definitely takes a collaborative effort. All hail the same treatment of all peoples on Earth. As long as that treatment is for the good of all and comes from a place of love and respect.

It's a shame that the current culture of authorship doesn't allow us to keep tacking new chapters onto the Zhuangzi. I think a parable or two about a blind lawyer telling the truth about what he sees happening in his hometown could fit right into there.

thanks for the comments,

Yes, a quite appropriate addition...

Your contrast of utilitarian ethics v. an ethics of care is well taken. And I would agree that "hierarchy" may not be the best term to get at Confucian particularism. Some folks now talk about "role ethics:"

I think the examples of Hobbes and Fichte demonstrate the problem well. They, generally speaking, start off with some liberal assumptions but ultimately veer off into rather unliberal territory, at least by contemporary standards.

Why is the translation "universal love" too "hippy-ish"? "impartial caring" and "inclusive care" seem kind of dead to me.

Universal love is a value shared by most religious traditions (e.g. caritas or agape love in Christianity). It doesn't seem like Mozi is too far off from that.

as an aside, it might be better to think of universal love vs. family-first as two paradoxical truths rather than two irreconcilable values.

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