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« Blocked in China? | Main | Confucianism and Abortion »

June 24, 2007


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I'm actually in the midst of working on a piece that deals with some of this (the notion of Confucian freedom) at the moment. On the one hand, it seems to me that a Confucian notion of freedom might be analogous to the kind Descartes discusses in the Meditations. There, Descartes argues that freedom is not the ability to act in an arbitrary way, but the ability to act in the right way. Thus, Descartes argues that our freedom increases as we bend our wills towards truth. Confucius' notion is not interested in truth, but appropriateness, but I think the structure is similar. Thus, instead of seeing correction from others as "interference" that robs you of freedom, the Confucian should see _non_ interference as robbing a person of freedom. Of course, this kind of approach does walk a dangerous line between authoritarianism and the benevolent use of power.

This sounds quite promising to me. I do not really know Descartes that well (one class in college) but on the face of it his idea of freedom, as you describe it, does have a Confucian ring to it. I wonder if Daniel Bell (the younger) has made this comparison anywhere...


I don't know Bell's work. Do you have a good book by him that I could grab from Amazon?

Speaking of book reading -- I mentioned to you a while back (in a post somewhere I think) that I would read Jullien's "Detour and Access" on the plane to China. I did. The first half of the book is very engaging. His thesis is a simple one -- that Chinese communication is indirect whereas Western communication is direct -- but his presentation is engaging. He does a good job relating these differences to philosophical assumptions about the world and about human relationships and masterfully shows how the are exemplified in politics, literature, philosophy and warfare. The second half of the book, with a few chapters, is not as engaging. Overall, a worthwhile read if you haven't thumbed through it.

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