Confucianism and Care Ethics

Authored by: Sin Yee Chan

The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138795921
eBook ISBN: 9781315758152
Adobe ISBN:


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As a critical response to the prevailing ethical theories of Utilitarianism and Kantianism that emphasize individual judgment, rational thinking, and reliance on impartial, universalistic and general principles, care ethics breaks significant new ground. Drawing heavily from women’s experience of caring for dependents, care ethics focuses on relations, contextual thinking, emotions, partiality, and particularity. Interestingly, Confucianism, developed more than two centuries ago, shares many of these foci. Consequently, many scholars consider Confucianism a kind of care ethics. In what follows, I shall first explain briefly the main ideas of Confucianism and care ethics, provide an overview of the debate of whether Confucianism is a kind of care ethics, and reflect on one major question raised from the debate, namely what constitutes a generic account of care ethics. Finally, I suggest that Confucian scholars and care ethicists should collaborate, especially on the issue of how to extend from partial caring (caring for close relations) to general caring (caring for people outside one’s close circle). In explaining Confucianism, I shall reference to the Confucian canons the Analects, the Mencius, the Xunzi and the Liji (Book of Rites). I shall rely mostly on Noddings’s account when outlining care ethics.

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