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The question of possible moral conflict between commitment to family and to impartiality is particularly relevant to traditional Confucian thought, given the importance of familial bonds in that tradition. Classical Confucian ethics also appears to lack any developed theoretical commitment to impartiality as a regulative ideal and a standpoint for ethical judgment, or to universal equality. The Confucian prioritizing of family has prompted criticism of Confucian ethics, and doubts about its continuing relevance in China and beyond. This chapter assesses how those sympathetic to the Confucian vision of the good life might respond. It first explores Confucian conceptions of love and the importance of familial love. Next, problems arising from this commitment to partiality are discussed, and how a modern Confucian ethics might respond. I explore what notions of impartiality—understood largely pragmatically, as a value that functions in everyday social life rather than as an explicit moral principle that guides deliberation or judgment—can be derived from an ethics that focuses on family commitments.
This work was originally published in Love, Justice, and Autonomy: Philosophical Perspectives. Edited by Rachel Fedock, Michael Kühler, and Raja Rosenhagen. Routledge, 2020. 364pp.