Abstract： The positive writings of self by Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, the three most brilliant writers in the American Renaissance of the 19th-Century, laid the foundation for the establishment of American identity and national literature. American individualism is believed to be rooted more in their transcendentalist vision of the self, but because of ego-centrism and transcendence, it fell into an awkward position that demanded reflections and rectifications. The awkwardness is shared by all ontological theories of subjectivity in the Western tradition, which prioritize the correspondence between the inner mind and the transcendental principle, paying little attention to practical experiences and existential embeddedness—the inter-relatedness between a subject and the other, society, and nature, etc. Descended from a similar line of intellectual thought, the American philosopher and sinologist Roger Ames, assimilating ideas from both the Chinese and Western traditions, has proposed a theory of Confucian role ethics, which holds that an individual exists as a relational and “becoming” moral subject rooted in concrete social roles and inter-connections. This theory, departing from the Western ontological view of the subject, is conducive to exposing the problematic aspects of individualism and may serve as a viable way out of the ego-centric trap for individuals. The 19th-Century writings of the self and Roger Ames’ Confucian role ethics are actually addressing the same issue and their ways out seem to be fundamentally compatible. The Emersonian transcendentalism fails to deal with the problems of ego-centrism, abstractness, and transcendence rooted in the Western metaphysics. It intensifies the awkwardness of individualism while promoting the abstract moral subject in America, and hence it becomes one of the major thoughts with which Roger Ames’ theory of the Confucian role ethics is engaged in a dialogue. In Thoreau’s writings of the self, the nature, the body, and a variety of the “other” are recovered with the breakdown of the ME-NOT ME dichotomy, demonstrating Thoreau’s motive to decentralize the abstract self and to locate the self in a concrete existence. Meanwhile, Thoreau values both the Western ontological question of “what am I?” and the Confucian practical and ethical question of “What can I do”. Thoreau’s idea concerning the self and moral subject casts doubt on metaphysical subjectivity by problematizing its essentialist stand with an insight that the self does not exist as a self-sufficient being, but rather as a constructed subject endowed with the relational and processual characteristics, thereby possessing a compatibility with the theory of the Confucian role ethics. Whitman’s writings of the concrete moral subject as man-en-masse goes beyond Thoreau’s prioritization of nature, and seeks a true self in the concrete interactions with the body, other, masses, and society, etc. Whitman’s self differs sharply from Emerson’s in that his foremost concern lies in real self-mass interactions, rather than the divinity and principles or Ideas precious to the idealistic tradition. His location of the self in the concrete relations in the mass suggests an inner similarity with Confucianism preoccupied with human relations in social ethics. Inspired by Roger Ames’ theory of Confucian role ethics, we have located in Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman’s writings of the self an implicit tendency that turns away from abstractness to concreteness, from individual interiority to corporeal, natural, and social exteriority, distancing itself from the Western ontological assumptions of subjectivity and coming closer to the Confucian role ethics. An inquiry into this turn not only helps deepen our understanding of American transcendentalism and American Renaissance, but may also enable us to be further aware of the universal significance of Confucianism and inspire us to find a way out of the trap wrought by the ego-centric individualism that troubles the world and societies.
段国重、顾明栋. 超验主义主体思想与儒家角色伦理学——爱默生、梭罗和惠特曼的“自我”书写新论[J]. 浙江大学学报(人文社会科学版), 0, (): 1-.
Duan Guozhong Gu Mingdong. Transcendentalist Subjectivity and Confucian Role Ethics: A New View of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman’s Writings of Self. JOURNAL OF ZHEJIANG UNIVERSITY, 0, (): 1-.