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The Concept of Filial Piety in East Asian Confucian Culture from the Perspectives of Gadamer and Habermas

Donghyun Kim


This paper examines the role of filial piety in East Asian Confucian societies as a means of drawing out political implications by showing two different standpoints elaborated by Gadamer and Habermas. The two thinkers seem to display different outlooks on the notion of filial piety in the East Asian Confucian culture: Whereas Gadamer appears to approve the practice of filial piety as keeping tradition in the specific societies, i.e., Confucian East Asian culture, Habermas rejects it by refusing the concept of tradition. The debate primarily originates from two different—though both “Western”—philosophical traditions. Gadamer endorses tradition since all human beings are conditioned by the effects of cultural heritage, and events can never be disinterested. All previous contexts of human culture enter into the greater tradition that is transmitted to us through the generations as an inexhaustible stock of moral instruction. On the other hand, in his critique of Gadamer’s appropriation of tradition, Habermas argues that human beings can overcome the dogmatic force of tradition. In Habermas’s account, it is of significant importance to use reason—or critical reflection—in order to overcome such dogmatic force. In short, this paper appropriates Habermas’s charge that Gadamer hypostatizes tradition. In other words, Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics embeds understanding in tradition because all understanding is necessarily prejudiced. Habermas rejects Gadamer’s idea of tradition on the ground that it is absolutizing.


Confucianism; Confucian East Asian culture; critical reflection; filial piety; Gadamer; Habermas; tradition

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2020.03303