Calendar | Lecture

Presence in the Caregiving Relationship: On Moral Subjectivity, or the Soul

Copenhagen, 15th March 2019

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"This talk draws on my forthcoming book The Soul of Care (Penguin, September 2019) in order to explore the clinically important question, what is the relationship of subjectivity to moral sensibility, responsibility and practice? Following the Confucian tradition and based on my work over 50 years in Chinese society, I seek to challenge the established, largely Western understanding of both morality as well as subjectivity. From the perspective I will advance, morality is located primarily in the local worlds we inhabit. It becomes embodied in the individual as a reaction (either of support or resistance) to the values animated in the flow of social experience in those local worlds. Seen this way, the real subject of medical ethics, for example, is not abstract principles, but the local world of a clinic or a family and the relationships and inner life of the people who inhabit those worlds. Subjectivity in turn is not only about cognitive processes and emotions, but centers on the moral sensibility, responsibility and practices of the individual. The most deeply experienced moral concerns and commitments comprise what historically we have called the soul. That soul is embedded in social relations as well as the body of the person.