Confucianism's Prospects

A Reassessment

By Shaun O'Dwyer

Subjects: Confucianism, Comparative Philosophy, Asian Religion And Philosophy, Asian Studies, Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438475493, 288 pages, August 2019
Paperback : 9781438475486, 288 pages, July 2020

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Table of contents


1. The Vicissitudes of Confucianism

2. Ibsen's Nora and the Confucian Critique of the Unencumbered Self

3. Confucian Ritual, Hierarchy, and Symmetrical Deference

4. Filial Piety in East Asia and Beyond

5. The Unity of Loyalty and Filial Piety: An East Asian Horror Story

6. Epistemic Elitism, Paternalism, and Confucian Democracy

7. Perverse Doctrines and One Hundred Schools: Confucianism’s Place in Modern Pluralistic Societies


Challenges descriptions of East Asian societies as Confucian cultures and communitarian Confucian models as a political alternative to liberal democracy.


In Confucianism's Prospects, Shaun O'Dwyer offers a rare critical engagement with English language scholarship on Confucianism. Against the background of historical and sociological research into the rapid modernization of East Asian societies, O'Dwyer reviews several key Confucian ethical ideas and proposals for East Asian alternatives to liberal democracy that have emerged from this scholarship. He also puts the following question to Confucian scholars: what prospects do those ideas and proposals have in East Asian societies in which liberal democracy and pluralism are well established, and individualization and declining fertility are impacting deeply upon family life? In making his case, O'Dwyer draws upon the neglected work of Japanese philosophers and intellectuals who were witnesses to Japan's pioneering East Asian modernization, and protagonists in the rise and disastrous wartime fall of its own modernized Confucianism. He contests a sometimes Sinocentric and ahistorical conception of East Asian societies as "Confucian societies," while also recognizing that Confucian traditions can contribute importantly to global philosophical dialogue, and to civic and religious life.

Shaun O'Dwyer is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures at Kyushu University.


"…O'Dwyer's contribution in this book is scholarly, fine, and thought-provoking." — Journal of World Philosophies

"…[a] philosophically rich volume … The volume is certainly a provocative and daring enterprise, which challenges the generally accepted understanding that East Asian societies are, at heart, communitarian and Confucian. Since its arguments are coherent and well backed up, even those readers who do not share O'Dwyer's ethical and political yardstick might find themselves called upon to reexamine their positions." — Religious Studies Review

"O'Dwyer's engagement with Confucian ideas and ideals will be appreciated by specialists." — CHOICE

"This book makes a significant contribution to the field by analyzing a number of claims of modern Confucianism from a critical philosophical perspective." — Kiri Paramore, author of Japanese Confucianism: A Cultural History