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Confucian Role Ethics

A Vocabulary

By Roger T. Ames

Publication Year: 2011

In this landmark work, noted comparative philosopher Roger T. Ames interprets how the classics of the Confucian canon portray the authentic, ethical human being. He argues that many distinguished commentators on Confucian ethics have explained the fundamental ideas and terms of this distinctively Chinese philosophy by superimposing Western concepts and categories, effectively collapsing this rich tradition into a subcategory of "virtue ethics." Beginning by addressing the problem of responsible cultural comparisons, Ames then formulates the interpretive context necessary to locate the texts within their own cultural ambiance. Exploring the relational notion of "person" that grounds Confucian philosophy, he pursues a nuanced understanding of the cluster of terms through which Confucian role ethics is expressed. Drawing on Western and Chinese sources, Ames provides a convincing argument that the only way to understand the Confucian vision of the consummate life is to take the tradition on its own terms.

Published by: Chinese University Press

Half Title Page

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pp. 1-2

Title Page

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p. 3-3


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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-6


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-12

It is with real joy that I hasten to acknowledge the extraordinary hospitality that I enjoyed at New Asia College under the stewardship of Henry N. C. Wong and his colleagues, Peter J. L. Man and Nixon W. K. Fok, who did such a marvelous job in organizing the 2008 Ch’ien Mu lectures. In the Philosophy Department at CUHK I have always been treated as one ...

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pp. xiii-xvii

... I will certainly want to “appreciate” the narrative of one of the world’s longest lived cultural traditions. That is, I will in these pages endeavor to appraise and to give a robust account of the uniqueness and the worth of Confucianism as a cultural narrative, and in offering this summary of it, to acknowledge as best I can its magnitude and its complexity. To this end, in the introductory chapter I reflect upon the problem of making responsible cultural comparisons, concluding that we ...

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Section I. Introduction: “Appreciating”Confucianism

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pp. 1-40

Confucius was certainly a fleshand- blood historical person who lived, taught, and died some twentyfive centuries ago, consolidating in his own time a formidable legacy of wisdom that has been passed down and applied through the ages to shape the character of an entire culture. In and of itself, the profoundly personal model of Confucius remembered by his protégés through those intimate snapshots of his life collected in the middle chapters of ...

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Section II. An Interpretive Context for Understanding Confucianism

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pp. 41-85

In the first chapter, I argued that there is a resilient substratum sedimented over time into our natural languages that makes cultural traditions distinctive, and that acknowledging this phenomenon is a necessary starting point for making productive cultural comparisons. It is this persistent worldview conveyed in the structure and the content of the language that continues a cultural identity as a shared and unifying ...

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Section III. The Confucian Project: Attaining Relational Virtuosity

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pp. 87-157

What is a human “being”? This was the perennial Greek question asked in Plato’s Phaedo and in Aristotle’s De Anima. And perhaps the most persistent answer from the time of Pythagoras was an ontological one: The “being” or essence of a human being is a permanent, ready-made, and self-sufficient soul. And “know thyself ”—the signature exhortation ...

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Section IV. Confucian Role Ethics

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pp. 159-210

In guiding our actions, we are inclined to presume uncritically perhaps that because we have a word, we have a “thing”: Not only does “courage” or “justice” have an immediate referent, but this referent is somehow independent of our actions, and thus has either causal status as a given antecedent to what we do, or a teleological status as a predetermined goal for our actions.1 ...

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Section V: Confucian Human-Centered Religiousness

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pp. 211-255

The distinguished French sinologist Marcel Granet observes rather starkly that “Chinese wisdom has no need of the idea of God.”1 Albeit in different formulations, this same characterization of classical Chinese philosophy has had many iterations by some of our most prominent sinologists and comparative philosophers. Tang Junyi for example states unequivocally: ...

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Epilogue: The Limits of Confucian Role Ethics

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pp. 257-268

In this monograph I have tried to offer an interpretation of Confucian role ethics that allows the vocabulary of this enduring vision of the consummate life to speak for itself. This effort has been based on the premise that before either endorsing or rejecting a philosophical position, we must first apply the principle of charity and try as best we can to understand it on its own terms. ...


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pp. 269-309

Bibliography of Works Cited

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pp. 311-322


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pp. 323-332

E-ISBN-13: 9789629969103
Print-ISBN-13: 9789629964511

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: N
Publication Year: 2011