Ritual and Deference

Extending Chinese Philosophy in a Comparative Context

By Robert Cummings Neville

Subjects: Religion, Philosophy, Comparative Philosophy, Asian Religion And Philosophy, Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791474587, 218 pages, July 2009
Hardcover : 9780791474570, 218 pages, June 2008

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Table of contents


1. A Confucian Program

Philosophical Cosmology
Human Nature
Social Theory

2. The Significance of Confucian Values

Values for the Good Life: Conventional, Yet Normative
A Confucian Solution: Ritual
High Civilizations: Competing Values and Global Rituals
A Homily on Humaneness

3. Ritual in Xunzi

Initial Considerations of Ritual in Xunzi
Ritual and Semiotics
Ritual and Desire
Ritual, Integration, and Religion

4. Daoist Relativism, Ethical Choice, and Normative Measure

A Metaphysical Daoism
Normative Measure
Daoist Ethics
Daoism and Confucianism Compared

5. Chinese Influences in English-Speaking Philosophy

Scholarly Influences
Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall
Tu Weiming and Cheng Chungying
Wu Kuangming

6. Methodology, Practices, and Disciplines in Chinese and Western Philosophy

The Problem
Methodology as a Concern
Philosophical Practices
Philosophical Discipline

7. Metaphysics for Contemporary Chinese Philosophy

The Need for Metaphysics
Themes of Chinese Philosophy
Metaphysical Directions

8. The Conscious and Unconscious Placing of Ritual and Humanity

The Unconscious as a Problem for Confucian Virtue
Ritual and Humaneness
Deceptions of the Heart: Freud
Deceptions of the Heart: Marx

9. The Contemporary Mutual Development of Confucianism and Christianity

From Reformation of the Inner Heart to Loving the World
The Location of Ethical Analysis and Rectifying Power
Peace, Action, and Retreat

10. The Personal and the Impersonal in Conceptions of Divinity

Popular versus Sophisticated Religion Hypothesis
Development Hypothesis: Pre-Axial Age and Axial Age
Semiotic Hypothesis
Ontological-Anthropological Continuum Hypothesis

11. On Comparison

Models of Comparative Theology
Objectivist Comparison
Normative Comparison
Beyond Comparative to Integrative Philosophy

12. Contributions of Chinese Philosophy: A Summary Discussion

The Happy Portability of Chinese Philosophy
Ritual, Again
Ethics, Again
Orientation and the Self


Brings Confucianism and Daoism into conversation with contemporary philosophy and the contemporary world situation.


Ritual and Deference develops Robert Cummings Neville's thesis that contemporary philosophy has much to gain by shaping itself through important themes of the Chinese philosophical traditions, especially the themes of ritual and deference. Neville here offers a broad and detailed interpretation of the relevance of Confucianism and Daoism to contemporary issues. The discussion includes analyses of classical Confucian and Daoist texts, especially those of Xunzi and Laozi, and of the current scene of English-speaking philosophy advancing Chinese themes. The book also reflects on the nature of comparative philosophy as such, and the role that comparative philosophy has in the ongoing contemporary engagement with globalization, the clash of cultures, and scientific transformations of the worldviews of diverse civilizations. Neville stresses the importance of deferring to the integrity of cultures while still submitting them to normative analysis and criticism.

Robert Cummings Neville is Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology at Boston University and the author and editor of many books, including Boston Confucianism: Portable Tradition in the Late-Modern World, also published by SUNY Press.


"…[Ritual and Deference] should find its way to all those who have interest in and want to understand Confucianism and Daoism from the perspective of comparative philosophy. " — Monumenta Serica

"…elegant … More accessible than [Neville's] other monographs, its apparent simplicity is deceptive. While it would inspire and benefit even the novice, only those who have traveled some distance on the same arduous journey would fully appreciate the depth of its understanding and the clarity achieved through struggle with the perennial identity crisis and methodological problems of comparative philosophy. " — Philosophy East & West

"…provides a vision and instills a passion for a constructive philosophy that goes beyond simple comparison. Ritual and Deference is an important resource for anyone who is interested, or should be interested, in the task of comparative philosophy and the renewal of their respective traditions. " — Journal of Chinese Religions

"Neville employs a clear, engaging style. " — CHOICE

"Neville addresses an important methodological issue in contemporary Asian and comparative thought by surveying, drawing on, and adding to recent scholarship. Moreover, he has taken the next step by enthusiastically implementing concrete projects relating to Chinese wisdom for the benefit of contemporary life throughout the globe. It is rare to read an academic work that can elicit joyous laughter in response to the author's sage yet delightfully presented thoughts. " — Sandra A. Wawrytko, San Diego State University

"The suggested use of the Confucian ideas of ritual and deference in conjunction with important themes in Western thought is certainly a contribution to comparative philosophy, and to philosophy generally. " — Kathleen Higgins, author of Comic Relief: Nietzsche's Gay Science