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April 02, 2010


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Actually, you can be quite surprised by the mountains in Los Angeles, every time strangely enough, when the smog is suddenly washed away by a "winter" rain and the San Gabriels suddenly loom in all their glory for a few hours.

Quite right--we don't get to choose most of our Others who are objects of care. Certainly in early Confucian times, choice of spouse for example would not have been "up to us." That aspect--of care recipients being often thrust upon us-- makes care ethics seem sometimes just as demanding (a la Bernard Williams' critique of modern morality) as any other ethical system. Care generates as much obligation as, or maybe even more than, the Categorical Imperative or the Principle of Utility.

The mother-child care relationship is the primary model on the feminist (Nel Noddings) model of care, whereas the Confucian model is more patriarchal (father-son, ruler-subject, husband-wife, etc). Both are demanding; "opting out" of the relationships of care are worse failures, it seems to me, on those models than being careless or inadequate in care-giving.

Just some thoughts, squeezed in between getting the wee care-units ready for school and sending them off.


Hi M,

Thank you so much for your comment-- but also for the paper, and more for the original discussion of 愛 ("love") over at your place last month. It was your colleague Justin's insistence that "care" is the best translation for the concept of pre-Qin 愛 that started me down this path.

At first I was resistent-- you will remember, I am sure! But the more I thought of it, the more I came to be convinced that he was on to something-- so was really glad to read Li's interesting paper!

"care" as significance and affection.... Harrison in his book, talks about the "cura" myth (which Heidegger also talks about). I personally think this is a fascinating instance of "great minds thinking alike" (Heidegger et al, Gilligan et al; and Confucius et al)

And you are right, I think it is a more demanding ethical imperative than Kant's categorical imperative (and of course more than the weaker demands of Utilitarianism). I always think of Ivan Karamazov.... loving humanity but hating his neighbors! To care for those people who crash into us (specific others with whom we have 縁 ) that is the challenge! It is always easier to care about issues or people in the abstract. Embodied affection is more demanding I think without a doubt.

And so I hear you loud and clear regarding the greater pain of failure in opting out of such relationships. It is true. I think, it is more painful and more a necessary feeling of failure.

I heard from our man in Beijing last night. He agrees that there is a similar impertative to give more than you receive in Confucian other-relations as well and says we see evidence of this, for example, in the reason "why Xunzi spent so much time illustrating his arguments about ritual with care for the dead: it's the perfect example of other-regarding care, they can't reciprocate (unless you believe in other-regarding ghosts). There is a similar idea in Judaism, the example of caring for the dead is supposed to be the highest (most moral) ritual. But caring for the dead can be distateful, as Xunzi reminds us, it takes conscious effort"

And mountains.... You are right about the smog. And, everytime we would get on the 101 and catch that rare sight of the San Gabriels my mother would become so delighted, "Look! Look at the mountains-- with snow on them." The air quality, however, has improved so the mountains seem mostly visible nowadays... or maybe it's because I am usually there in winter when the air is better anyway.

I saw on facebook that the weather is improving and people are getiing naked in Connecticut. Sounds good. Have you heard the big news here about Japanese star Kusanagi's one-man naked fest in a Tokyo park? It is HUGE here and in Korea (where he is also very uniquely adored).... Here is a Here's a montage-- no naked pictures though


Another quick response arrives from the heavenly capital:

The one caveat I would add is that the Confucian model is not only patriarchal: care for the elderly involves care for the mother, and care for the dead also involves both parents.

and when I said that the "patriarchy" is just in contrast with the feminist stress of the mother-child relation:

And we can reinterpret Confucianism to make it less patriarchal, just as Nussbaum does with Aristotle (and it's more of a challenge for Aristotle since he argued that women are the biological inferiors of men). Chan Sin Yee, Li Chenyang, and Henry Rosemont have been doing such work

For me, this is an extremely stimulating area of thought: ethics of care in terms of specific other. Also as Beijing hints, the reinterpretion of pre Qin Confucian thought in this way is not such a huge challenge at least(compared with Aristotle). It is very interesting.


I will limit my comment to a Buddhist perspective:

On the hinayana level care is the cultivation of love for another.
on a Mahayana level care is the result of the realization of emptiness of the self of subject and all objects as interdependent origination which is caritas or karuna (cognates).
On a Mahayoga level of secret Vajrayana, care arises naturally out of an absorption in the just as it is (deshyin nyi kyi tingédzin), as an absorption in the all pervasive lighting up of being (inseparable from the as-it-is)( küntu nangwé tingédzin) and finally rising as the causal fruitative absorption appearing in the imagination as the bija mantra of the mediation deity form of Buddha male or female(rgyu'i ting nge 'dzin). This developes into the visualization of the mandala as the world in its primordially pure beginning. One only has totally pure perception of everything as the display of divine effulgence and is enlightened thereby.

In Ati Yoga the caritas is the natural energy of the empty ground. It is simply confused into subject and objective dichotomies leading to suffering. But Thugje is the natural expression of being's complete transparency and openness, a natural responsiveness that is integral to being. When it is the minds expression it is partial when it is natural beings pure knowing it is impartial. more or less.

To simplify dogen Zenji said:

To study buddhism is to study the self
to study the self is to forget the self
to forget the self is become enlightened by all things
to be enlightened by all things is to destroy the barrier between ones self and others.

Thank you so much for this comment, Douglas!

I like that a lot: Karuna and caritas as cogates (com-passion). Do you know the myth of the Goddess Cura? Here is Robert Harrison’s version:
Once when Care was crossing a river, she saw some clay; she thoughtfully took up a piece and began to shape it. While she was meditating on what she had made, Jupiter came by. Care asked him to give it spirit, and this he gladly granted. But when she wanted her name to be bestowed upon it, he forbade this, and demanded that it be given his name instead. While Care and Jupiter were disputing, Earth arose and desired that her own name be conferred on the creature, since she had furnished it with part of her body. They asked Saturn to be their arbiter, and he made the following decision, which seemed a just one: “Since you, Jupiter, have given its spirit, you shall receive that spirit at its death; and since you, Earth, have given its body, you shall receive its body. But since Care first shaped this creature, she shall possess it as long as it lives. And because there is now a dispute among you as to its name, let it be called homo, for it is made out of humus (earth).”

Until such time as Jupiter receives its spirit and Earth its body, the ensouled matter of homo belongs to Cura, who “holds” him for as long as he lives (Cura teneat, quamdiu vixerit).

Human beings, then, are creatures “held in care’... but I think this is different (as I said above) from the universalist care of the buddhists and catholics. But rather it is the care that is generated in the space between 間specific people(人 +二+仁) As Manyul suggested above, in many ways this particularist (non-abstract) approach is much more rigorous than the Kantian or buddhist persopective (it could be argued at least).

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