- Relations and Practices of Virtue:Replies to Commentators
I would like to thank the commentators for the care and sympathy evident in their excellent responses to my book.1 They delve deeply into numerous critical issues. It is truly satisfying to labor greatly and then experience such thoughtful attention directed toward one's work. Given that some parallel issues were raised by different people, in what follows I organize my responses around key themes in order to address most of the issues raised with minimal repetition.
I. Differences between Ancient Confucian Views and Defensible
It is worth noting at the outset that throughout the book I always strive to track both (1) what seems most plausible as a rational reconstruction of ancient "Confucian" (or Ru) ethics in its context (i.e., what they really meant and thought and why that made sense in their context), and (2) what a defensible or even desirable contemporary version of their views might be, which can then be put in dialogue with one's own considered convictions about ethics and politics.
Professor Snow is right to point out that I do not spend much time engaged in historical analysis of gender relations in ancient China, nor do I analyze why the early Ru held typical early Chinese views of sex-segregated social roles and duties. As I attempt to explain at various points in the book, especially the last section of chapter 2, the reason I allocate attention to the issues in the way I do in the book is because of my overall aim: to articulate what I think contemporary Westerners need to learn from early Confucians regarding authority, dependence, and the cultivation of autonomy. These are contemporary philosophical goals, and they would not be well served by greater analysis of the issues Snow raises.
Most early Confucian sources have almost nothing to say about gender differences or why they exist; they simply take them for granted, and appear to have an overall view of gender complementarity regarding appropriate tasks and spheres of influence. The best explanation for their blindness is the usual explanation for parallel phenomena in other privileged people: [End Page 525] they cannot see their own dominance as anything but natural, and are used to the gendered division of labor in their society. It is also worth noting that this is an ancient society with no birth control, no mass education, and many other fundamental differences from the present.
To the extent there is any rationale for their views, it is because of the great value placed on family life as a central human practice, and of the great value of child-rearing. Thus "women's work" in these areas has high human value in a Ru account; recent work by Erin Cline, building off the research of Anne Kinney, shows the attention lavished on proper child-rearing of elite children in the Han empire, for example.2 But none of this is going to change my mind about the ethical viability of any ideology of gender complementarity as a restraint on either women's or men's practices in the present. I think confining women to primary child-rearing duty is just a non-starter and not worth seriously debating. And as far as historical, sociological, and economic analysis of our patterns of domination, we would do better to study ourselves than the ancient Chinese.
I do think my extended analysis of different forms of dependence, and how we ought to think about dependence and caring labor today, are the real contributions of the book, and I hope they will help contemporary people learn something relevant to our current practices of gender and racial subordination around caring labor. Understanding the variety of dependence relations has real critical power to expose our presently operative preconceptions regarding caring labor.
In other words, early Ru ideas about different forms of dependence and the cultivation of autonomous people are highly relevant to feminist theorizing of a better world where caretaking labor is not presumed as already somehow magically done by others (women, people of color, the poor, immigrants) that ethics and political theory can assume but...