Relational Civic-Mindedness – Towards a Confucian Familist Civil Society

Jannis Niethammer, University College Freiburg/ Yale-NUS College Singapore

In our globalized world, social relations are becoming more ambiguous and abstracted, and addressing contemporary issues like climate change necessitates moral relations between strangers. This paper attempts to address the question in how far the Confucian familist ethic based on personal relatedness can guide interaction for reciprocity in these circumstances. In Western political thought, the concept of civil society has been pivotal for theorizing and motivating civic behavior and collective action towards the common good. In an exercise of comparative philosophy, this paper will thus attempt to conceptualize civil society from within ancient Confucian thought. It argues that civil society is an imagined normative sphere and civic-mindedness a plausible and sufficiently guiding principle. As Confucian morality is inherently relational, civic-mindedness can be reached by an extension of benevolence (ren) as practiced in the special relations. This extension is to be seen as a mode of moral development and can be practiced in the social space of civil society. A Confucian familist civil society based on relational civic-mindedness seems thus conceptually conceivable as well as normatively desirable to meet the societal challenges of the 21st century.

Keywords: political philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Confucianism, civil society, morality

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