Ibsen's Nora and the Confucian Critique of the “Unencumbered Self”

Hypatia 31 (4):890-906 (2016)

Criticisms of the liberal-individualist idea of the “unencumbered self” are not just a staple of communitarian thought. Some modern Confucian thinkers are now seeking to develop an ethically particular understanding of social roles in the family that is sensitive to gender-justice issues, and that provides an alternative to liberal-individualist conceptions of the “unencumbered self” in relation to family roles. The character of Nora in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House seemingly exemplifies such conceptions of the unencumbered self in her rejection of her housewife role for a more authentic selfhood. Drawing upon the capabilities approach to justice, and positive early Japanese bluestockings’ responses to Ibsen's play, I argue that Nora's character is better understood as exemplifying an ethically compelling disencumbered self in potentially cross-cultural circumstances: a self criticizing and rejecting social roles that are found to be unjust according to universal, as opposed to particularist, “Confucian” ethical standards.
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DOI 10.1111/hypa.12291
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