Human Becomings: Theorizing "Persons" for Confucian Role Ethics

A default individualism constitutes a major underlying and entrenched conceptual problem that is exacerbating the current human predicament. Indeed, this foundational individualism is appealed to first in defining what it means to be a moral person, and then is extended as a determinate of what it means for this putatively moral person to act justly. The presupposition that defines persons ideally as free, autonomous, rational, and properly self-interested individuals is ubiquitous in much if not most of modern Western moral and political philosophy. And it takes on an analogous form at the extended level of corporate culture and the sovereign state. This foundational individualism with its roots deep in the Western philosophical narrative, dilutes our sense of moral responsibility by allowing us, in some important degree, to describe, analyze, and evaluate individual persons—psychologically, politically, and morally—in isolation from others. Yet this putative foundational individual is at every level not only an ontological fiction, but moreover, because the individual so defined provides the moral and political justification for an increasingly libertarian economic and political system, it has become an insidious fiction.

When we look for the cultural resources necessary to respond to the global and national predicament, we must anticipate the need for a shift in our values, intentions, and practices that takes us from the preponderance of finite games played among self-interested, single actors to a new pattern of infinite games played through the strengthening of those relationships at every level of scale—personal, communal, corporate, and those among nation states as well. We need to move from finite to infinite games to face and hopefully overcome what are the shared challenges of our day. Priority must be given to those values and practices that will support replacing the familiar competitive pattern of single actors pursing their own self-interest, with the collaboration of players strengthening possibilities for coordinated flourishing across national, ethnic and religious boundaries.

The substance of this monograph is to argue that the Confucian tradition, and particularly, the Confucian conception of relationally-constituted persons as “human becomings,” has an important contribution to make in this effort as we struggle to deal with our current human predicament. We are in urgent need of a more inclusive world cultural order drawing upon all of our resources that can provide the change in our values and practices necessary to guarantee a future for all of our children and grandchildren.

Author: Roger T. Ames
Published Date: 2020
Publisher: SUNY

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.