Confucius and Kierkegaard: A Compatibilist Account of Social Ontology, Acquired Selfhood, and the Sources of Normativity

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 17 (4):499-525 (2018)
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Nearly all of the scant comparative work on Søren Kierkegaard and Confucius places the two starkly at odds with each other. Kierkegaard is pictured as the paradigmatic exemplar of the Western self: a discrete rights-bearing and volitional atom who is quite alone in the world, while Confucius, by contrast, is the paradigmatic exemplar of the Eastern self: a complex and irreducibly embedded communitarian bundle of relations and rich social roles. In this article, I challenge this oppositional approach, since it is both erroneous and obscures fruitful dialogue between the two on conceptually commensurate problems. I argue (1) that Kierkegaard offers a relational ontology of the self which moves in a Confucian direction, (2) that subjectivity and relational reciprocity are not fundamentally at odds in the two thinkers, (3) that both thinkers value a life of harmonious integration that entails right relation to others, and finally (4) that Confucius’ appeal to Heaven as a source of normativity allows for salutary social critique of prevailing ethical norms and practices, in a way that provides important comparative insights with Kierkegaardian theism.



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After virtue: a study in moral theory.Alasdair C. MacIntyre - 1981 - Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.
The sources of normativity.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Onora O'Neill.
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Phenomenology of Spirit.G. W. F. Hegel & A. V. Miller - 1977 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 10 (4):268-271.

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