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