Filial obligation, zhixing and the importance of morality

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Confucianism places great demands on adult children to take care of their parents. The strength of these demands is shown not only in the great sacrifice which they require adult children to bear; in some occasions it even recommends the agents or the adult children violate their civic obligations so as to promote their parents’ interests (Analects 13.18; Mencius 7A35). This feature of Confucianism has contributed to debates among contemporary scholars. The Confucian view may be regarded as problematic because it encourages corruption and favoritism over the consideration of justice.
In my paper, I will discuss an alternative reading of the Confucian view as it is expressed in Analects 12.18, Mencius 7A35 and 5A3. I argue that Confucianism places great importance on an agent’s prudential commitment concerning what he should do with his life. When an adult child faces an ethical dilemma between the need to protect his parents’ interests and the demand of justice, to protect his parents, the adult child may act in contravention of the demand of the legal institution or of the general expectation of society. I shall describe this character as zhixing 直性, which refers to the agent’s ability to act straightly in accordance with his belief. An agent who has this character has the capacity to act with self-honesty, courage, and determination. On this understanding, the Confucian filial demand involves a different dimension than that of other normative theories. While other normative theories may impose great demands on the adult child to support his aging parents, Confucianism places more emphasis on the agent’s need to conceive his telos and take actions to commit to it. Morality, on this reading, will not have as important a status as other normative theorists may attribute to it. Copyright © 2018 The 50th Annual Conference of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


Sin, W. (2018, June). Filial obligation, zhixing and the importance of morality. Paper presented at The 50th Annual Conference of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy: Power and Creativity, Pedagogical University of Cracow, Krakow, Poland.


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