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Cross-Cultural Examination of Ethics Memo

ENGL 7705

First Summer Session 2016

This memo was written to an audience of Westerners to address non-Western ethics. I chose
Confucian ethics and reviewed the culture, compared it to Western culture, and addressed
differences.

I enjoyed learning about Confucian ethics for this memo and comparing it to Western,
specifically Anglo-U.S., ethics. My enthusiasm for this topic showed through my writing and
organization which are strengths of this memo. The memo is easy to follow in terms of headers
and my goal was to write as if I were giving this memo to someone who did not know about
Confucian ethics. This memo could be given to and understood by someone who does not know
about Confucian ethics. The only critique I have of this document is that some information reads
as repetitive and could have been edited out so that it was given in only one spot.

I used six sources on this short memo, but it does not feel cluttered with information. Each
source was used to describe Confucian ethics in a way which I could not being from Anglo-U.S.
culture. Many of the authors I used were followers of Confucianism or came from non-Western
ethics, so using their viewpoint to avoid a bias in analysis was beneficial to this memo.

Highly Dissatisfied Highly Satisfied

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Memorandum
To: Kirk St.Amant

From: Laura Shepko

Date: 5 June 2016

Subject: Writing for Westerners about Confucian Ethics Memo

Summary
The purpose of this memo is to provide Westerners with information about Confucian ethics.
This memo will review the culture of Confucianism, compare Confucian culture to that of
Anglo-U.S. culture, and discuss differences in order to foster effective communication between
someone from Anglo-U.S. culture and Confucian culture. The memo concludes with strategies to
help Anglo-U.S. individuals better address the cultural differences seen in Confucianism.

Cultural Review
The term Confucianism refers to the philosophy of Confucius and is regarded as Chinas
oldest and most revered philosophy (Goldin, 2011, p. 1). Confucius philosophy comes from his
upbringing in China in the sixth century BC. This time period was one that lacked order and
Confucius believed that this negative social environment corrupted the natural good of human
nature. To create social order, Confucius sought moral refinement to bring back the natural good
of human nature by first creating order in the home. These beliefs create people who are immune
from morally harmful societal influences with a collective concern for the livelihood of others
(Hsiung & Stewart, 2015). From these past ideas, followers of Confucianism view this
philosophy as ethical because of a concern for collective national freedom that can be seen in
Chinese society today.

Comparing Cultures
At the core of Confucianism are the values of ren (benevolence or humanity), yi (appropriateness
or rightness, or even righteousness), li (rites, rituals, or ritual propriety), zhi (wisdom), xin
(trustworthiness), and yong (courage) (Tan, 2005, p. 409). These values of Confucianism are
similar to the ethics and practices of Anglo-U.S. culture in that both view the significance of
ones character. However, these translations do not necessarily carry the same meaning that our
Western words do. For example, xin does not quite map onto the notion of trust as usually
understood in contemporary Western contexts (Wee, 2011, p. 516). Cecilia Wee in her article
Xin, Trust, and Confucius Ethics (2011) notes that xin translates more to keeping ones
word, specifically in the context of speech, while in the West, our notion of trust is built on
relationships like a person placing their trust in another.

Aside from translation differences, there are other ways in which these cultures diverge. Anglo-
U.S. culture values rationality and Socrates ethics of moral reason while followers of
Confucianism regard emotions like ren (humane love) and xiao (filial piety), as the fundamental
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character of human beings as well as their moral life (Liu, 2013, p. 87). As mentioned in the
Cultural Review section, Confucian ethics believe in national freedom rather than individual
freedom. This is a stark contrast to U.S. culture in which our country was founded on the idea of
individual freedom.

While Confucianism has many similarities to the practices of Anglo-U.S. culture, there are
differences which need to be taken into consideration if one is dealing with a follower of
Confucianism. It is important to recognize these similarities and differences in order to create an
environment in which both cultures can successfully communicate their ideas with understanding
amongst all parties.

Addressing Differences
Strategy 1: In order to address the differences between Confucianism and Anglo-U.S. Western
ethics, one should keep in mind that Confucianism is viewed by practitioners as more of a
religion than a philosophy (Yu, 2005, 175-6). By understanding Confucianism as a religion,
Westerners may be more inclined to treat the ethics of Confucianism like the ethics of their own
religion. This strategy can help Westerners better understand that Confucianism is more than an
ethical philosophy.

Strategy 2: Anglo-U.S. Westerners should also consider that followers of Confucianism have a
greater concern for national freedom rather than freedom of the individual. This should be of
specific consideration to Anglo-U.S. Westerners who view their ethics through individual
freedom. Having a consideration of how followers of Confucianism see not only themselves, but
also their nation, will help relationships between Anglo-U.S. Westerners and these followers.
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References

Goldin, P.R. (2011). Confucianism. Durham, UK: Acumen

Hsiung, J., & Stewart, D.T. (2015, October). The Confucian vision for a good society. Paper
presented at the Carnegie Council's Global Ethics Fellows Fifth Annual Conference, New
York, NY. Abstract retrieved from
http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/studio/multimedia/20151022b/index.html

Liu, Q. (2013). Emotionales versus rationales: A comparison between Confucius and Socrates
ethics. Asian Philosophy, 23(1), 86-99. doi: 10.1080/09552367.2013.751749

Tan, S. (2005). Imagining Confucius: Paradigmatic characters and virtue ethics. Journal of
Chinese Philosophy, 32(3), 409-426. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6253.2005.00201.x

Wee, C. (2011). Xin, trust, and Confucius ethics. Philosophy East and West, 61(3), 516-533.
Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23015356

Yu, J. (2005). The beginning of ethics: Confucius and Socrates. Asian Philosophy, 15(2), 173
189. doi: 10.1080/09552360500165304