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UofC's Stephen Walker discusses “Filial Piety” in Confucian Thought

  • Kibbitznest 2212 North Clybourn Avenue Chicago, IL, 60614 United States (map)
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Kibbitznest Liberal Arts Discussions are a collaboration with The University of Chicago Graham School to host presentations and discussions of original research.


About the Discussion

In this culture, when people hear “devotion to family” they’re likely to envision the devotion of parents to their children’s well-being, or possibly the devotion of each member to the family as a whole. Confucianism, by contrast, pays enormous attention to the duties children have toward their elders; “filial piety”, though an awkward translation, effectively conveys the religious nature of the orientation that sons and daughters are supposed to have to their parents—up to and including literal worship.

We’ll explore the concept of filial piety in depth, examining some of the classical arguments for why it’s supposedly so important. For Confucian thinkers, humans are fundamentally vulnerable, sensitive animals that rely on each other extensively—and the greatest reliance of all is on parents to bring us into life and raise us up. This creates a kind of unpayable debt to the people we owe our very lives to, and Confucians think the profound emotions involved can structure and guide our various other relationships as well. It’s normal for individualism-minded people to find Confucianism depressingly hierarchical and collectivistic, which means that taking the arguments for filial piety seriously can throw a fascinating critical light on the "Enlightenment" assumptions that so many of us take for granted.


About Stephen Walker:

STEPHEN C. WALKER holds a PhD in the Philosophy of Religions from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His research focuses on classical Chinese thought—particularly Daoism and the Zhuangzi—and explores the relationship between skeptical, relativistic, and anti-realist theoretical claims and the practical consequences of taking such claims seriously. He has also worked extensively with Sanskrit materials, particularly those reflecting the classical heritage of exacting interreligious debate. Interests that inform his writing and teaching include the personal and social contexts for philosophical work, the ambiguity and malleability of concepts, and the importance of learning to appreciate both insider and outsider perspectives on texts and traditions.

FREE & OPEN to the public
Sponsor: Kibbitznest Books, Brews & Blarney

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