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Social Morality and Social Misfits: Confucius, Hegel, and the Attack of Zhuangzi and Kierkegaard

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There is a remarkable and surprising connection to be found between an argument of Søren Kierkegaard's and one of Zhuangzi's—what I call the ‘social misfit’ critique. I will argue that this connection highlights a hitherto unacknowledged parallel between the moral thought of their respective targets: Hegel in the case of Kierkegaard and Confucius in the case of Zhuangzi. Specifically, it reveals a significant parallel between Hegel's movement from Moralitat to Sittlichkeit and Confucius’ position on the central and irreducible role of li (ritual or propriety) in morality. I will begin by briefly tracing the ‘social misfit’ critique as it is found in Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and in the Zhuangzi. In Section 2, I will sketch Hegel's argument for the indispensability and irreducibility of social norms (Sittlichkeit) for morality, and reflect on the implications of this move for the possibility of social criticism. Finally, I will argue that Confucius can be understood as articulating a vision of morality and of social criticism very close to Hegel's.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 2012

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