Confucian Tradition and Practice

In this light, Confucian tradition and practice thus closely resemble what we have already seen of ubuntu as a (Southern) African cultural tradition. While, of course, distinct from one another in crucial ways, they share the sense that individuals are relational beings, ones centrally interdependent with the larger community for their very existence and sense of meaning as human beings. Compared with Western systems emphasizing individuals and the individual’s exclusive property rights, both Confucian and ubuntu traditions downplay the importance of the individual and individual interests, stressing instead the importance of contributing to and maintaining the harmony and well-being of the larger community. (We will explore these matters more fully in chapter 6, but it is important to stress here that this emphasis on the community does not mean – as it sometimes seems to my Western students – the complete loss of “the individual.” On the contrary, individual human beings retain significance and integrity in these views, precisely as they are able to interact with others in ways that foster community harmony and well-being.)

Hence, whether it is copying and giving an important text out of respect and gratitude (my Thai students), or making available an OS such as Ubuntu for free (in more than just the economic sense of being without cost), in both cases the understanding of property is inclusive: the right to access and use these materials belongs to the community, not exclusively to the individual.

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In sum, we have now seen culturally variable understandings of property and the ethics of copying and distribution – initially within Western cultures (US and European copyright schemes, along with copyleft schemes affiliated with FLOSS), and now between Western and non-Western cultures and traditions. In this light, it should now be clear that the various software operating systems and applications developed under FLOSS are popular in the developing world not simply for economic reasons: that is, at least in terms of licensing arrangements (though not necessarily in terms of technical and administrative costs), FLOSS avoids the licensing fees charged by corporations such as Microsoft. In addition, we have seen what we can properly call the ethos or ethical sensibilities surrounding FLOSS: this ethos includes an explicit emphasis on one’s contribution to a shared work for the sake of a larger community. Moreover, this ethos resonates closely with the emphasis on community well-being that we have now seen to be characteristic of Confucian tradition and ubuntu, as but two examples of non-Western philosophical and ethical traditions.