Esoteric Confucianism, Moral Dilemmas, and Filial Piety

In James M. Ambury, Tushar Irani & Kathleen Wallace (eds.), Philosophy as a way of life: historical, contemporary, and pedagogical perspectives. Malden, MA: Wiley. pp. 45–64 (2020-10-05)
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Two controversial cases in Confucian literature present the demands of filial piety as conflicting with those of impartial justice. Let us call them the Case of Concealment (Analects 18.13) and the Case of Evasion (Mencius 7A53). A dogmatic reading of the texts indicates that both Confucius and Mencius give more weight to filial piety than to justice. This essay, however, provides an alternative reading of the cases: the liberal reading. I argue that the Confucian teachers used the cases as moral dilemmas that force Confucian students to learn how to use a cluster of Confucian virtues, including practical wisdom, discretion, and straight determination, under difficult circumstances. The liberal reading views these moral dilemmas as rhetorical tools; they guide Confucian students in meditative exercises and ultimately transform students’ mode of seeing and being.



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