chapter  11
Filial piety as a virtue
ByPHILIP J. IVANHOE
Pages 14

Filial piety was an important virtue in early Confucianism and was recognized even by critics of the tradition, such as Zhuangzi, as an unavoidable part of human life.1 Such a deep and abiding concern with filial piety is not unique to China alone. Many cultures throughout the world value filial behavior and record, retell, and advocate acts of filial devotion and sacrifice.2 Such behavior is often explained, as Zhuangzi seems to have done, by appeals to human nature. At times, along with religious warrants, such appeals are offered not only as explanations for filial behavior but also as justifications for filial piety as a duty, obligation, or virtue.3 However, Chinese culture is distinctive in the amount of attention paid to and the importance claimed for this particular virtue. In contrast, contemporary philosophers pay scant attention to filial piety. Among those who offer a defense of at least some form of filial obligation, the most interesting and persuasive views base filial piety on the model of friendship or a sense of gratitude for the various sacrifices that good parents make on behalf of their children.4 I argue that such arguments offer an important source for a viable defense of filial piety but fall short because they fail to capture important features of the child-parent relationship. This in turn leads them to miss important and characteristic features of the virtue of filial piety.