One of the most commonly assigned secondary texts in university classes on early Chinese religious thought is Herbert Fingarette's classic Confucius: The Secular as Sacred (Fingarette 1972). This is not only because of its brevity and the lucidity of its prose, but also because Fingarette's book marked a sea change in the manner in which Western philosophers approached early Chinese texts. Fingarette (1972) played a central role in inaugurating an era of much more nuanced, culturally sensitive interpretations of the Analects, as well as other early Chinese texts, in philosophical circles: an era in which Confucius no longer appeared as a watered-down Christian or “Axial Age” Kantian who occasionally liked to play dress-up and perform some strange rituals, but rather demanded serious philosophical attention as a unique thinker in his own right. Fingarette was one of the first Western philosophers to recognize that the early Confucian model of the self fundamentally challenges a particular understanding of the ethical self, and the self vis-à-vis culture and society, that remains quite prominent in modern Western philosophical and popular discourse. Taken seriously on its own terms, the Analects presents a vision wherein the individual is not an autonomous atom, freely pursuing its own rational self-interest, but is rather always already embedded in a web of familial, social and cultural connections.
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