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Role ethics

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Title: Role ethics  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Confucianism, Normative ethics, Ethics, Confucius, Contractualism
Collection: Confucianism, Corporatism, Ethical Theories, History of Philosophy, Normative Ethics
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Role ethics

Role ethics is an ethical theory based on family roles.[1] Unlike virtue ethics, role ethics is not individualistic. Morality is derived from a person's relationship with their community.[2] The ethics of Confucianism is an example of role ethics.[1]


Tang Dynasty depiction of Confucius

Confucian role ethics centers around filial piety or xiao, a respect for family members.[3] The concept is elaborated in the Confucian text Classic of Filial Piety: "In serving his parents, a filial son reveres them in daily life; he makes them happy while he nourishes them; he takes anxious care of them in sickness; he shows great sorrow over their death; and he sacrifices to them with solemnity."[4] Filial duty requires the desire to be filial, and not just the act of filial piety.[2] In Confucian societies, filial piety determines the "moral worth" of an individual in a community and acts as a form of social capital.[4]

According to Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont, "Confucian normativity is defined by living one's family roles to maximum effect." In Confucian role ethics, morality is based on a person's fulfillment of a role, such as that of a parent or a child. These roles are established as relationships, and are not individualistic. Confucian roles are not rational, and originate through the xin, or human emotions.[2]

The concept of li or ritual propriety is crucial to Confucian roles. Propriety reinforces family relationships, and binds together the community. The performance of li expresses a person's moral commitment as a human being.[2]

In Japan, modern Confucian scholars like Uno Tetsuto and Ichimura Sanjiro have attempted to mix Confucian role ethics with concepts such as democracy and human rights.[5]


  1. ^ a b Roger T. Ames (30 April 2011). Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary. University of Hawaiʻi Press.  
  2. ^ a b c d Chris Fraser; Dan Robins; Timothy O'Leary (1 May 2011). Ethics in Early China: An Anthology. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 17–35.  
  3. ^ Wonsuk Chang; Leah Kalmanson (8 November 2010). Confucianism in Context: Classic Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, East Asia and Beyond. SUNY Press. p. 68.  
  4. ^ a b Edited by Charlotte Ikels (2004). Filial Piety: Practice and Discourse in Contemporary East Asia. Stanford University Press. pp. 3–5.  
  5. ^ Oliver Leaman (2001). Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy. Taylor & Francis. p. 191.  
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