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Was Confucius teaching us how to do things with words? Reflections on ethics in language and communication

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As observed by both western and Chinese scholars, despite the cultural and historical distance between them, the works of Confucius and J. L. Austin (together with other scholars of speech act theory) share similar views on the performative dimensions of language. Speech act theory underscores how utterances constitute actions instead of reporting inner mental states of the speakers, while Confucian texts also draw attention to the embeddedness of language in the wider contexts of personal affairs and social order. In this article, we conduct a detailed comparison of the two to demonstrate that their views on language and communication, although sharing some important concerns, differ significantly in two main aspects: (1) The relationship between one’s ‘internal’ cultivation and ‘external’ behaviours; (2) The conceptualization of language and ethics. In conclusion, we discuss the implications of a Confucian outlook for the study of language and communication and point out some directions for future research.
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Keywords: Confucian philosophy; ethics; language and communication; linguistics; rules; speech act theory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Lingnan University 2: Paris Diderot University

Publication date: November 1, 2018

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  • Empedocles aims to provide a publication and discussion platform for those working at the interface of philosophy and the study of communication, in all its aspects. This Journal is published in cooperation with the Section for the Philosophy of Communication of ECREA, the European Communication Reserach and Education Association.
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