Since Chenyang Li’s (1994) groundbreaking article there has been interest in reading early Confucian ethics through the lens of care ethics. In this paper, I examine the prospects for dialogue between the two in light of recent work in both fields.
I argue that, despite some similarities, early Confucian ethics is not best understood as a form of care ethics, of the kind articulated by Nel Noddings (1984, 2002) and others. Reasons include incongruence deriving from the absence in the Chinese texts of a developed account of need, and doubts about whether the parent-child relationship in Confucian thought is best characterized by ‘care’. More importantly, care is merely one value directing the Confucian commitment to family and personal bonds, with different kinds of relationship, including the five relationships presented in the Mencius, entailing different idealized modes of relating to others.