Carnegie Mellon University
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Confucian Ethics and Labor Rights

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journal contribution
posted on 2009-07-23, 00:00 authored by Tae Wan KimTae Wan Kim

In this article I inquire into Confucian ethics from a non-ideal stance investigating the complex interaction between Confucian ideals and the reality of the modern workplace. I contend that even Confucian workers who regularly engage in social rites at the workplace have an internal, Confucian reason to appreciate the value of rights at the workplace. I explain, from a Confucian non-ideal perspective, why I disagree with the presumptuous idea that labor (or workplace) rights are necessarily incompatible with Confucian ideals and values. Specifically, I argue that if managers were “sages,” the highest moral exemplars and authorities in the Confucian tradition, they would perceive that social rituals alone are often not a contextually intelligent and valued response for the development of intimate communities in the modern workplace. The sage perspective will lead Confucian managers to realize, from their own moral perspective, that they have good reason to balance rites with rights, so long as the adoption is extrinsically valuable and consistent with the Confucian ideal. This article contributes to the debates about Confucianism’s compatibility with rights, helps Western human rights scholars better contextualize their arguments in Confucianism-influenced cultures,