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« Confucius at TED | Main | Obligations to Parents »

February 20, 2009


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Hi Sam,

Something has been bothering me here for a while. And so I thought I would ask you your opinion. Often when you write about Confucius here (and other places) you (indeed many american thinkers) stress this idea of

"keeping our attention on cultivating and preserving our closest loving relationships (that is how a Confucian Way is realized)"

I agree with this and yet I think you are brushing over a very important aspect of the concept (maybe because it does not ring well for some American ears?) And that is, that to my reading it is not that cultivating our "closest loving relationships" are the key but rather that honoring and caring for the bond we have to our parents (and extending backward to a certain extent to ancestors) is the true foundation of this philosophy.

Out of this love and honoring of our PARENTS, we then love and honor ruler, spouse, child and friend. It is not a matter of picking and choosing loving realtionships to be committed to but something much more basic to our human nature-- loving our parents.

If this a correct reading (and honestly I am in a far less secure place than you to say as this was never my field in the 1st place) then I think the english language presentation should reflect that. Why? because it perhaps is really an important point-- indeed, it makes all the difference.

Yes, Peony, you ask a good question.
"closest loving relationships" is my formulation. I am working to adapt Confucian ethics to contemporary questions. So, while you are right to point out that there is an especial emphasis on a child's duties to parents in Confucianism, I would press back and argue that, in The Analects, we can also find duties that parents have to children ("cherish the young") and that friends have to friends, and even that one has to strangers. Duty toward parents is important, but it is not exclusive. I will provide more on this in a post, perhaps early next week. But for now I have neither the time nor my texts here before me.
Suffice it to say that if one wanted to press the point you are making here, it could lead to a rejection of modern applications of Confucian thought. I have thought about that and, while I obviously reject it (or my book would dissolve before my very eyes), I recognize a certain validity to the concern.
Again, more later...

I look forward to talking about it. Contrary to you, perhaps, I think one's duty to their parents is not only the fundation upon which the entire noramative ethics is based, but more, it has more to say to contempory people than anything. To me it is The Point!

Enjoy the City!


Obviously, if one says that duty to parent is the foundation of a moral philosophy, this is NOT to say that no other duties exist. To be primary of categorical is not to exclude other factors.

Just to be clear...

Hi Sam,

I hope you enjoyed the City! As promised (threatened??) I responded to you in a long blog post at my place... In fact, not only do I think this relevant (to your book), but without the concept of filial piety I in fact wonder if the entire normatice ethical theory even holds up... anyway, it is a topic I feel strongly about and would love to hear your thoughts someday on it.


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