An Ethics of Propriety: Ritual, Roles, and Dependence in Early Confucianism

Asian Philosophy 23 (2):153-165 (2013)
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This study examines the normative foundations of early Confucian ethics and suggests that rather than attempting to understand Confucian ethics in the language of ‘morality’ a more productive way would be to appreciate Confucianism as an ethics of propriety that can be articulated in terms of social roles, ritual decorum, and relational dependence. I argue that Western notions of ‘morality’ betray a thicker, more culturally loaded concept that possesses a limited utility in regard to comparative study. We can appeal to a kind of methodological charity where we not only maximize the sense of the text or subject's sayings but also privilege the categories of thought that are native to the text's or speaker's lexicon. With this in mind, we can understand Confucian ethics as an ethics of propriety that departs substantially from Western moral systems, including virtue ethics, and challenges our received views on justice, autonomy, and personal identity.



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Jung Lee
Northeastern University

Citations of this work

Confucian Role Ethics: A Critical Survey.John Ramsey - 2016 - Philosophy Compass 11 (5):235-245.
Business Ethics, Confucianism and the Different Faces of Ritual.Chris Provis - 2020 - Journal of Business Ethics 165 (2):191-204.

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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Ethics and the limits of philosophy.Bernard Williams - 1985 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Orientalism.Edward Said - 1978 - Vintage.
What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 2002 - Mind 111 (442):323-354.
Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.Bernard Williams - 1985 - Cambridge, Mass.: Routledge.

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