Confucian Persons. Human Beings or Human Becomings

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    2008 Chien Mu Lecture in History and Culture New Asia College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

    ^ _ S p e a k e r : f r p f f f s o r R o g e % T . A m e s

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  • 2008 Ch'ien Mu Lecture in History and Culture New Asia CollegeThe Chinese University of Hong Kong

    Speaker : " P r o f e s s o r "Roger t! Ames

    Confucian Persons :Human Beings or Human Becomings

    Appreciating Confucianism :Gonfiician Human-Centred Religiousness


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    Confucian Role Ethics and Moral Imagination


  • Professor Roger T. Ames

  • ^ Confucian Persons: Human Beings or

    Human Becomings?

    Appreciating Confucianism: Confucian

    Human-centered Religiousness


    Confucian Role Ethics and the Moral Imagination


    Prof. Roger T.Ames) 14

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  • (Professor Roger T. Ames)

    1987 Philosophy East and West 1992China Review International SUNY Press)

    1991-1999, 2004-2005)1990

    1960 1966

  • 1 2 1978


    33 process c h a r a c t e r )



  • (essentialist theory of human nature)(human being) human becoming individual-in-community)

    @5 transcendentalism)

    (David L. Hall)Thinking

    Through Confucius ( 1987)( 2005 ) Anticipating China: Thinking through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture, ( 1995)( 2005) Thinking from the Han: SelfTruth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture (1998)( 1999)

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    "Confucian Persons: Human Beings or Human Becomings?" 9 0

  • Confucian Persons: Human Beings or Human

    Becomings? Roger T. Ames CUHK/University ofHawai'i (

    Tang Junyi 1909-1978), one of China's most prominent New Con-fucians and a founding member of New Asia College, invokes a feature of Chinese cosmology that provides insight into the vectoral yet always contingent nature of the human experience. For Tang Junyi, like Charles Darwin and John Dewey, the Confucian understanding of "human nature" is that a provi-sional generalized disposition that is both persistent and always under revision in its interactions with other things. In Tang Junyi's own words, Chinese cosmology entails the notion that "human nature is nothing but the unfolding of the natural processes themselves (pdngji tiandao guan 'I)

    All teleological and genetic assumptions we might have about being human have to be qualified by the spontaneous emergence of novelty within any specific context, and by a creative advance in any situation's continuing present. "Human nature," then, is the aggregating yet open-ended disposition of human beings over time, and is an expression of the ongoing attainment of relational virtuosity (ren )within our inherited cultural legacy {tiandao^it). In fact, it is precisely the indeterminate possibility for creative change that is the most salient feature of the human xing. What is "innate" in the xing of persons is most importantly the propensity for growth, cultivation, and refinement.

    In Tang Junyi's general discussion of the Confucian understanding of human nature, he notes that xing has two referents: it refers to the continuing existence of a particular thing itself, and also refers that which in a thing continues the life of other things. The nature of the soil, for example, lies not only in its own condi-tions, but also in its propensity to grow things conducive to life itself. A Confu-cian conception of human beingsor better, "human becomings" is that they too are defined relationally and collaterallynot what they "are," but what they do.

  • Tang Junyi's definition of the nature of "human becomings" in terms of their ongoing relations within their various social, natural, and cultural environments exemplifies his proposition that "one and many are inseparable and at the same time challenges the familiar interpretation that we are human "be-ings"that is, being human entails some ready-made "given" essence or telos some innate and unchanging endowment present in us from birth.

    I will argue that Tang Junyi's "New Confucianism" is not so new. It is in fact consistent with that espoused in the Great Learning a pragmatic naturalism directed at achieving the highest integrated cultural, moral, and spiritual growth for the individual-in-community. In his understanding of communal harmony as "starting here and going there," the Confucian sages are no more than ordinary persons who, through their commitment and assiduous discipline in their fam-ily and communal relations, leam to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Indeed, for him this same claim that "everyone can become a sage" is an asser-tion that the spontaneous emergence of real significance in the ordinary business of the day is itself the meaning and content of sagely virtuosity. Those ordinary persons who in their own lives achieve real significance are sages. And given our initial conditions and our cultural resources, all of us have the opportunity to live such significant lives.

    This Confucian definition of person contrasts starkly with a foundational indi-vidualism that is default in much of Western theorizing of the human experience, and has important implications for the role human beings must aspire to in the Confucian vision of a consummate moral and religious life.


  • (human beings) human becomings

  • Appreciating Confucianism: Confucian Human-centered Religiousness

    Roger T. Ames CUHK/University ofHawai'i (

    Ch'ien Mu 1895-1990), the renowned and prolific Confucian scholar-educator who in 1950 founded Hong Kong's New Asia College, argued that the concepts that express the Confucian vision of a moral and religious life have no equivalents in other languages. In this lecture, I will argue that in the process of introducing Confucian philosophy into the Western academy, scholars have in important measure depreciated it by overwriting its unique inspiration for human flourishing with presuppositions derived from their own moral and religious sen-sibilities. Indeed, the formula of translations used to interpret Confucianism has effectively "Christianized" Confucian thinking, locating it within a worldview not its own. Witness the standard formula of translations: tian is "Heaven," li is "ritual," is "righteousness," dao is "the Way," ren is "benevolence," and so on.

    The consequence, then, of this overtly Christianized reading of these terms of art has located the study of Confucianism within Western seats of learning in reli-gion and area studies departments rather than as part of a philosophy curriculum, and has relegated translations of the Confucian texts to the suspect "Eastern Re-ligions" comers of our bookstores. There have been subsequent efforts to rescue this uprooted and transplanted Confucianism from a Christian soil. But the result has often been to reconstruct its ideas and values through the prism of an Orien-talism that would ostensibly save the integrity of Confucianism by dismissing its religious import, and in the process, reducing it to a secular humanism.

    In a discussion of "Confucian Religiousness," I will argue that Confucianism is indeed profoundly religious, affirming the creative force of the cumulative hu-man experience itself without appeal to a transcendental source of meaning and

  • value. I will argue that, unlike the "worship" model that defers to the ultimate meaning of some temporally prior, independent, external agency, Confucian re-ligious experience is itself a product of the flourishing community. I will draw a direct line between the notion of personal cultivation, the flourishing family, and the profound human-centered (indeed, "a-theistic") religiousness that makes this Confucianism "religiousness" a substantial, world-affirming alternative to God-centered "religions."

    The quality of the Confucian religious life is a direct consequence of the qual-ity of communal living. Such religiousness is not the root of the flourishing com-munity, not the foundation on which it is built, but rather is its product, its flower. Confucian religiousness is neither salvific nor eschatological. While it does entail a kind of transformation, this is specifically a transformation of the quality of one's life in the ordinary business of the day.

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    (1895-1990) Heaven ritualrighteousness " t h e W a y " benevolence

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  • Confucian Role Ethics and the Moral Imagination

    Roger T. Ames CUHK/University ofHawai'i (

    Ch'ien Mu (Qian Mu)1895-1990) and Tang Junyi 1909-1978), two of China's most prominent "New Confucians and founding members of Hong Kong's New Asia College, while having radically different ap-proaches to Confucian philosophy, shared a commitment to its enduring impor-tance as a cultural resource for the modem world.

    Confucian "role ethics"how to live optimally within the roles and relations that constitute oneoriginates in and radiates out from the concrete family feel-ings that constitute the intergenerational relations that obtain among children and their elders and the interdependent roles that they live. Such family feeling is at once ordinary and everyday, and yet at the same time, is arguably the most ex-traordinary aspect of the human experience.

    In a Confucian world, because persons are bom into family relations that are considered constitutive of their persons, their "natures