, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 1–21 | Cite as

Role Ethics or Ethics of Role-Play? A Comparative Critical Analysis of the Ethics of Confucianism and the Bhagavad Gītā

  • Geoffrey AshtonEmail author


Both Confucianism and the Bhagavad Gītā emphasize the moral authority of social roles. But how deep does the likeness between these ethical philosophies run? In this essay I focus upon two significant points of comparison between the role-based ethics of Confucianism and the Gītā: (1) the interrelation between formalized social roles and family feeling, and (2) the religious dimension of moral action. How is it that Confucians ground their social roles in family feeling, while the Gītā emphasizes rupture between role and sentiment? Furthermore, are we to understand Confucianism as presenting a social philosophy that eschews religious concerns, whereas the Gītā denies the moral significance of family feeling in lieu of obtaining soteriological freedom? Examining the aesthetic and religious dimensions of the ethics of Confucianism and the Gītā clarifies a key distinction that both views implicitly make, albeit for divergent reasons: the difference between living one’s roles and playing one’s roles.


Role ethics Family feeling Sincerity Role-play 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of ColoradoColorado SpringsUSA

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