Agency and Performance in Confucian Philosophy
Karyn Lai (University of New South Wales)

September 22, 2016, 3:30pm - 5:00pm
European Philosophy and the History of Ideas Research Group (EPHI), Deakin University

Level 3, 550 Bourke St
Melbourne 3000


  • School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Deakin University


Accounts of Confucian philosophy tend to highlight its axiological dimensions, for instance, that the paradigmatic Confucian person (junzi) is benevolent or virtuous, effectively realising his* commitment to the welfare of the people.  Relatively less attention has been given to the junzi’s performance of tasks associated with this role.  I briefly introduce a picture of (the junzi’s) agency, using an analogy of a musician—a conductor—to draw out elements of Confucian agency and performance.  I focus especially on (a) the place of tradition in a musician’s interpretation of a piece, and (b) how a musician is reliant on the responses of the audience to his performance.  The aim is to highlight the ethical and political dimensions of leadership embedded in Confucian agency.

*In the Confucian Analects, this is not a gender-neutral term as it is an official position for which women were not considered (Analects 8.20).  I use this term here in its original sense, although in the remainder of my talk, I assume that the capabilities of the Junzi are available to women as well.


Karyn Lai is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New South Wales.  Her primary research is in early Chinese philosophy.  Her work is usually comparative, drawing insights from the Chinese traditions to address issues in moral philosophy, environmental ethics, and most recently, in epistemology.  She is the author of Introduction to Chinese Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and Learning from Chinese Philosophies (Ashgate Publishing, 2006), and of numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals.  She is Editor of Philosophy Compass (Chinese Comparative Philosophy Section), co-Editor of the Chinese Philosophy section of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Associate Editor of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy and Assistant Editor of Sophia.  She is currently the President of the Australasian Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy and the Regional Advisor (Australasia) of the International Society for Chinese Philosophy.

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