The Confucian Contingency Model: Person, Agency, and Morality

Philosophy East and West 74 (1):45-65 (2024)
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Abstract:The Analects and the Mencius are among the most influential early Confucian texts. They emphasize the importance of moral self-cultivation. The individual is expected to identify what is good, and freely choose it regardless of their internal predispositions or external conditions. Curiously, in their philosophical frameworks they do not posit anything outside of contingencies. This means there is no non-contingency-based notion of "good" or "agency." This paper contributes to the current discourse by explaining how morality and agency can be possible in a completely contingent system. Instead of positing a pregiven principle, self, will, or even capacity for agency, I will argue that Confucian texts assume that morality and agency emerge out of contingencies. As such, morality and agency are categorically distinct from contingencies, and are thereby able to reflect on them, without being ultimately sourced from any power outside of contingencies.



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