Coming to Terms with Dysfunction

Michael David Kaulana Ing

in The Dysfunction of Ritual in Early Confucianism

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199924899
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980437 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Ritual Studies Series

Coming to Terms with Dysfunction

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This chapter discusses how the scholarly field of Confucian ethics handles the issue of ritual failure. In particular, it examines how contemporary interpreters account for modifications of a ritual script, how they describe the cultivation of appropriateness (yi), how they explain the application of appropriateness in situations of potential failure, and how they account for unpreventable failures in efficacy. The major critique of this discourse is that contemporary interpreters mishandle unpreventable failures in ritual because, in their view, a failed ritual is easily attributed to either a defect in the ritual agent's competency, in which case the ritual agent needs to focus more on cultivating himself, or to powers beyond the ritual agent's control, in which case the ritual agent should focus on those failures within his power to prevent and trust the unpreventable failures to a larger teleological plan. Since, in their view, the ritual agent can clearly recognize the difference between the two, and since unpreventable failures in ritual cannot determine the self-cultivation of the ritual agent or his happiness, there is little need to analyze unpreventable failure in terms of its ethical bearing on the ritual agent.

Keywords: Confucian ethics; ritual failure; ritual script; appropriateness; yi; ritual agent

Chapter.  9399 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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