Theorizing “Person” for Confucian Role Ethics: A Good Place to Start
Prof Roger Ames (Peking University, La Trobe University China Studies Research Centre Visiting Fellow)

March 30, 2017, 2:00pm - 4:00pm
Jointly hosted by the China Studies Research Centre and the Philosophy Program, La Trobe University

Room 501 LIMS1 Building (La Trobe Institute For Molecular Science)
La Trobe University Plenty Road & Kingsbury Drive
Melbourne 3086



In this seminar I will argue that the appropriateness of categorizing Confucian ethics as role ethics turns largely on the conception of person that is presupposed within the interpretive context of classical Chinese philosophy. If our goal is to take the Confucian tradition on its own terms and to let it speak with its own voice without overwriting it with our own cultural importances, we must begin by first self-consciously and critically theorizing the Confucian conception of person as the starting point of Confucian ethics.

The problem of using Western categories—today, virtue ethics—to theorize Confucian philosophy is an old and persistent story. In our own time, but with deep roots in the classical Greek philosophical narrative, individualism has become a default, commonsense assumption, if not an ideology. That is, individualism has become an ideology when, in our own post-Marxist, post-collectivist era, it has garnered a monopoly on human consciousness without any serious alternative to challenge it. I will argue that the language of virtue ethics—in appealing as it does to the vocabulary of agents, acts, generic virtues, character traits, autonomy, motivation, reasons, choice, freedom, principles, consequences, and so on—introduces distinctions that assume this foundational individualism as its starting point.


Roger T. Ames is Humanities Chair Professor at Peking University, a Berggruen Fellow, and former Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawai’i. He is former editor of Philosophy East & West and founding editor of China Review International. Ames has authored several interpretative studies of Chinese philosophy and culture: Thinking Through Confucius (1987), Anticipating China (1995), Thinking From the Han (1998), and Democracy of the Dead (1999) (all with D.L. Hall), and most recently Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary (2011). His publications also include translations of Chinese classics: Sun-tzu: The Art of Warfare (1993); Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare (1996) (with D.C. Lau); the Confucian Analects (1998) and the Classic of Family Reverence: The Xiaojing (2009) (both with H. Rosemont), Focusing the Familiar: The Zhongyong (2001), and The Daodejing (with D.L. Hall) (2003). Almost all of his publications are now available in Chinese translation, including his philosophical translations of Chinese canonical texts. He has most recently been engaged in compiling the new Blackwell Sourcebook of Classical Chinese Philosophy, and in writing articles promoting a conversation between American pragmatism and Confucianism.

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March 28, 2017, 11:45pm +10:00

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