Res Philosophica

Volume 100, Issue 1, January 2023

Globalizing Empirically-Informed Philosophy; Special Editor: Helen De Cruz

Hagop Sarkissian, Emma E. Buchtel
Pages 23-41

What, Exactly, Is Wrong with Confucian Filial Morality?

Confucianism’s emphasis on filial piety is both a hallmark of its approach to ethics and a source of concern. Critics charge that filial piety’s extreme partialism corrupts Chinese society and should therefore be expunged from the tradition. Are the critics correct? In this article, we outline the criticism and note its persistence over the last century. We then evaluate data from the empirical study of corruption to see whether they support the claim that partialism corrupts. Finally, we report some recent experimental work done with colleagues testing the claim that filial piety is associated with tolerance of corruption in Chinese societies. The results suggest that the critics are on to something. However, partialism (or kin affection) is not a cause of concern. Instead, authoritarianism (another aspect of filial piety) is associated with tolerance of corruption. We conclude that critics should reformulate their criticisms if they seek to combat corruption effectively.