Virtue Ethics And Confucianism

Wednesday, December 29, 2021 6:22:16 PM

Virtue Ethics And Confucianism



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Ancient Virtue Ethics and Modern Business

Mencius replies that Shun could not stop the judge from apprehending his father because the judge had the legal authority to act. But then, Mencius says, Shun would have abdicated and fled with his father to the edge of the sea. He enfeoffed Xiang because all he could do as a brother is to love him. However, the Shun stories exhibit a complexity that differentiates them from the story of the sheep-stealing coverup in the Analects. Though Shun ultimately gives priority to filial loyalty in the case of his father, his first action acknowledges the value of public justice by declining to interfere with the judge while he is king.

While some sort of priority might have to be set in the end, there are also ways to acknowledge the value that is subordinated, but how exactly that is to be done seems very much a matter of judgment in the particular situation at hand. The Shun stories are an expression of the Confucian theme that rightness cannot be judged on the basis of exceptionless general principles but a matter of judgment in the particular situation. It is difficult to see how this theme can be taught except by the way it is done in the Mencius : through exemplars of how it is done, and where the situation is presented through some kind of narrative.

The characteristic form of reasoning in Mencius is analogical reasoning see Lau, b; Wong, The trick in doing analogical reasoning correctly, as suggested earlier, is to extend the similar conclusions only when the two cases share ethically relevant and decisive features. The Mencius 4A17 shows a similar concern for treating like cases alike. Another philosopher proposes to apply this idea of suspending the usual rules of propriety to save something else from drowning—the entire Empire!

The Empire can only be pulled out by the Way. There is a relevant dissimilarity between the case of the drowning sister-in-law and saving the country: one cannot save the Empire through compromises of ritual propriety, but instead by following the Way, which itself involves following ritual propriety. So what do we do when we confront a problematic case in the present and we do not automatically know what the right thing to do is? Mencius believes we can rely on past cases in which we have made reliable judgments about, for example, what is right and shameful.

These reliable judgments made in past cases serve as paradigms or exemplars of correct ethical judgment. We then determine what reactions to the new situations would be sufficiently similar to the relevant paradigm judgments. Analogical reasoning is careful attention and comparing to a concrete paradigm. The pool of paradigm ethical judgments we have not only includes cases from our own personal experience, but also include the experience of others, especially those who serve as models of wise judgment. The stories of sage-king Shun in the Mencius text seem to give us such paradigms. The conception of moral reasoning found in the Mencius offers important material for reflection on the process of moral judgment, especially for those who have come to reject the simple model of judgment as deduction from premises including a general moral principle and a description of the conditions that make the principle applicable to the situation at hand.

The Mencian picture includes general moral considerations or values that bear on the situation at hand, such as the importance of family loyalty and public justice, but the picture also suggests that judgment in difficult situations includes finding a way to adequate recognize and realize the values in play. He asserts that far from being good, human nature is bad because it includes a love of profit, envy and hatred, and desires of the eyes and ears that lead to violence and anarchy. To avoid these consequences of indulging our spontaneous desires and impulses, it takes wei conscious activity or deliberate effort , models and teaching, and guidance through observing ritual and yi standards of righteousness.

Through such efforts, natural emotions and desires are transformed as a crooked piece of wood is steamed and then straightened upon a press frame. All rituals and standards of righteousness are sheng generated, produced by the sages. These are generated from the conscious activity of the sages and not from their original nature. Just as the vessel made by a potter is generated from his conscious activity and not his original nature, so the sages accumulated their thoughts and ideas and made a practice of conscious activity and precedents, thereby generating rituals and standards of righteousness. Since it is clear that human beings are not already good but must work at it, it is clear that human nature cannot be good.

Becoming good does not seem to be merely a matter of not interfering with what will unfold in normal circumstances. However, when Mencius is attributed the sprout-metaphor view, the differences between him and Xunzi are more subtle. On the sprout-metaphor view, effort and reflection must be put into the project of extending the sprouts to where they should be. It might be thought that one of the real differences between Mencius and Xunzi is that the former believes the necessary effort lies in growing or extending what lies in human nature, whereas the latter believes that the effort lies in remaking and reshaping what lies in human nature.

Each thinker emphasizes one of these opposing directions, but it is a credit to the subtlety and power of their views that each also takes into account the direction that the other emphasizes. Such natural love is expressed in love for parents and intense grief upon their deaths, which must be given appropriate expression in mourning and burial rituals. Thus Mencius acknowledges that there are natural parts of the self that must be disciplined and held in check while Xunzi acknowledges that there are natural parts that are largely congenial to morality in the sense that they are the natural basis for taking great satisfaction and contentment in virtue once one has gotten the self-aggrandizing desires and emotions under control.

As indicated earlier, such Mencian predispositions appear to contain moral intuitions e. On one plausible interpretation of Mencius, morality is part of the order imparted to the world by tian or heaven. By contrast, Xunzi seems to rule out the existence of natural predispositions with moral content when he claims that the sage kings generated ritual principles and precepts of moral duty. The interpretation of Xunzi as a constructivist does not necessarily commit him to a denial of the objectivity of morality or to the denial that there is a single objectively correct morality.

It is possible to see Xunzi as a constructivist about morality but also as an objectivist see Nivison, On the constructivist interpretation, Xunzi holds a functional conception of morality, according to which it is invented to harmonize the interests of individuals and to constrain and transform the heedless pursuit of short-term gratification for the sake of promoting the long-term interests of the individual and the group. Ritual principles and moral precepts are invented to accomplish such a function, and human nature constrains which of the possible principles and precepts are better or worse for accomplishing that function. Textual passages that support this interpretation stress that tian operates according to patterns that remain constant no matter what human beings do or whether they appeal to it for good fortune chapter It is the proper task of human beings to understand what these patterns are in order to take advantage of them e.

Such a view of the difference between Xunzi and Mencius, however, depends on interpretations that been disputed in favor of alternative interpretations. For a contrasting view, see Irene Bloom , , , who, sometimes in response to Ames, defends a greater role for biology in her interpretation of Mencius while also leaving an important role for culture. The Xunzi text is also susceptible to very different interpretations, partly because of the originality of its synthesis of several streams of thought: Confucianism, Daoism, Mohism, and the Jixia Academy. Under alternative interpretations of Mencius and Xunzi, then, the differences do not disappear, but they might form even more subtle contrasts Wong, Even some of the theoretical difficulties that Xunzi has are instructive.

In pressing his case against Mencius for the badness of human nature, he stresses the self-serving drives of human nature. Unlike Hobbes, he does not accept that human beings are inevitably motivated by self-interest, and he does not try to base adherence to moral norms on the basis of self-interest alone. This arguably is a promising move, given the heavy criticism that can be directed against the Hobbesian project and subsequent attempts to carry it out its basic idea see Gauthier, for such an attempt; see Vallentyne, for criticism. Xunzi rather argues that the problems created by unrestrained self-interest point to the need to transform human motivation.

At times, Xunzi suggests that the intellect can override the desires arising from the natural emotions, but it remains unclear as to how self-regarding motivations can become a love of virtue and the rites simply because the intellect approves of them. The parts of Xunzi asserting a more complex picture of human motivation suggest a solution. If human beings are capable of genuine compassion and concern for others, as the chapter on rites suggests, then the ritual principles and moral precepts invented by the sage kings have some motivational leverage for the birth of a love of virtue and rites.

Such a solution draws from what are arguably some of the most plausible positions of Mencius: that human beings are capable of altruism and compassion even if they are motivated much of the time by self-interest; and that moral transformation is a matter of cultivating and extending a motivational substance that is congenial to morality see Wong, Mencius and Xunzi, then, offer sophisticated theories that expand the range of possible ways of understanding moral knowledge, motivation, and the nature of morality itself. Mencius presents an interesting conception of the way that we reason by analogy from intuitive judgments and also a plausible conception of innate predispositions that are compatible with a major role for learning and upbringing in the development of character and virtue.

Those who are more naturalistically inclined in their approach to morality at least insofar as this involves resisting the idea of a transcendent source of moral properties may find the interpretation of Xunzi as offering a functional conception of morality appealing, especially if it allows for a degree of objectivity regarding the content of morality. In recent years, Gilbert Harman —99, — and John Doris have pointed to the influence of situations over attitude and behavior as a problem for virtue ethics. Citing empirical work in social psychology, Harman and Doris claim that the extensive and surprising influence of situational factors undermines the commonsense idea that people possess stable character traits that explain what they do.

Some of the classic psychological studies used in this argument appear to show that ordinary respectable American citizens will administer dangerous electrical shocks to an innocent person when urged to do so by an experimenter in a lab coat Milgram , and that being late for an appointment is the most influential factor in whether a seminary student will stop and help someone who seems to be falling ill, even if the appointment is to attend a lecture on the Good Samaritan Darley and Batson Such studies pose a problem not only for the commonsense conception of character traits, but also for virtue ethics, which appear to assume the possibility of achieving stable character traits that are virtues.

Perhaps human beings are inevitably creatures who are influenced by the situation in which they act and not by any characterlogical dispositions they bring with them to the situation. If so, it appears that the ideal of attaining virtues is misguided. There are good reasons to expect Confucianism to offer some distinctive resources for dealing with this problem. First, as pointed out in 2. So they are very much in a position to appreciate situational influences on how human beings think, feel, and act. Second, they appear to hold something like a conception of virtues as stable character traits that are resistant to undue situational influences. As noted in 2. Third, as noted at the beginning of this entry, Chinese philosophy in general is distinguished by a focus on the practical.

This is illustrated in the Confucian case by the tradition of scholar-officials who not only wrote about and taught the importance of the ethical to the political life, but strove to enact this importance in their own careers. As a consequence, they were very much concerned with specifying in practical terms how one could go about cultivating the virtues in oneself. Fourth, and this is very much in response to the combination of the previous points, they describe a long and arduous program of ethical training to inculcate the virtues. In response to this challenge, their program of ethical training includes study of the classics after the ancient period, the classics came to include, of course, the Analects and the Mencius , memorized and rehearsed until they become fully internalized and embedded in the unconscious patterns of thought that are so powerful in shaping what we do in everyday life see Slingerland This is one characteristic pattern of Confucian self-cultivation: one consciously, deliberately and assiduously undertakes a program that inculcates dispositions to have ethically appropriate emotional responses and patterns of conduct.

The intent is to make the dispositions for these responses reliable and resistant to undue situational influence. The Analects , in fact, has been read as a record of how a group of men gathered around a teacher with the power to elevate, and as a record of how this group created a culture in which goals of self-transformation were treated as collaborative projects.

These people not only discussed the nature of self-cultivation but enacted it as a relational process in which they supported one another, reinforced their common goals, and served as checks on each other in case they went off the path, the dao. Training in ritual, li , takes on another dimension of importance in light of the situationist problem. As noted in section 2. Ritual forms, therefore, give participants manifold and just as importantly regularly recurring ways to act on and therefore to strengthen the right attitudes and behavioral dispositions. Given the renewed appreciation in contemporary psychology for the power of emotions to influence attitude and behavior, the resource offered by ritual training should not be ignored by anyone concerned about the problem of how to resist undue situational influence.

Finally, Confucianism points to the possibility that individuals, under the right circumstances and encouragement, can enhance their reflective control of their own emotions and impulses. It turns out the effective delayers use strategies of diverting their attentional focus from the marshmallow sitting in front of them. Projects are underway to teach children these strategies. Finally, in considering why robust character traits that could qualify as virtues are so rare, we should consider the perspective that very much informs the self-cultivation projects of Confucius and his students. They were very much aware of the lack of virtue as a social and political condition and not merely as an individual condition that just happened to be widespread Hutton makes this point.

There is a reason why Confucius and Mencius after him sought to have kings adopt their teachings. If in fact the achievement of robust virtues requires long and hard training, supported and guided by others who have taken similar paths before, and if as Mencius 1A7 holds, people cannot engage in such training until they have the material security that enables them to take their minds off the sheer task of survival, then it is no mystery at all why there are no such traits in societies structured to achieve very different goals. Ironically, the situationist psychological experiments do not take into account this underlying relational factor that might deeply influence the ability of people to form robust virtues, and neither do the philosophical critics of virtue ethics who rely on the situationist experimental evidence.

Zhu Xi — reinterpreted ethical themes inherited from the classical thinkers and grounded them in a cosmology and metaphysics that had absorbed the influence of Buddhism, particularly as it transformed in its interaction with Daoism when entering China see the chapters on Zhu Xi and Wang Yang Ming in Ivanhoe, for the neo-Confucian reaction Buddhism and Daoism. Zhu affirmed the Mencian theme that human nature is good, with greater emphasis on that vein of thought in the Mencius that stresses that goodness is internal to human beings and will develop in the absence of interference.

This reading of Mencius is unsurprising given the influence of Buddhism on the Neo-Confucians, and it meant the demotion of Xunzi within the influential Neo-Confucian reading of the tradition. How Zhu Xi conceived this relation is a matter of interpretive debate. With regard to qi , Zhu Xi held that even though goodness is within human nature, individuals differed with respect to their native endowment of energy stuff, and that this, together with differences in their family and social circumstances, affected the development of their good natures Angle and Tiwald, ; Liu, Apprehending li in a concrete situation in order to respond appropriately to it was not a simple matter of absorbing generalizations from texts and applying it to the situation, but rather a matter of bringing to bear a mind that has been cultivated by meditation and by study of the texts and by observing and acting in previous situations.

Such a mind can take into account relevant ethical considerations and is disciplined in attending to the situation see the chapter on Zhu Xi in Ivanhoe, ; and Gardner, He rejected what he saw to be the intellectualization of personal realization, and identified the mind with li xin ji li or mind is pattern or principle. Li is not to be sought as a pattern residing in an independently existing external world but is embodied in judgments of the mind. This seems to commit Wang to an identification of the world with the experienced world and to a denial of a mind-independent world, but an alternative interpretation is that the structure of the world is mind-dependent while the world itself is not Liu, Original goodness does not need completion through learning about the external world.

Why are some very bad? There can be no gap between knowing what to do and doing it. Genuine knowledge is necessarily practical. Selfish desires and emotions get in the way of achieving genuine knowledge. One way of understanding this identification is to take knowledge as a knowing how to act that is expressed in acting. Furthermore, knowledge is particularist and context-sensitive in nature and is expressed in intuitive reactions to the present moment. In genuine moral knowledge, perception of the situation at hand blends seamlessly with the right response to it.

In emphasizing that the ultimate ideal is a kind of spontaneous and intuitive perceiving of the situation and the right response to it, Wang Yang Ming joins with Zhu Xi. However, this does not mean that there were not important dissenting voices. Dai Zhen defended an ethical ideal in which deliberative reflection on the right thing to do continues to play an important role and not just at stages in which one is a considerable distance from realizing the ideal. A full defense of this claim requires not only identifying what is valuable in Confucian ethics but also addressing moral evils and liabilities that have long been associated with it the same should be said of Aristotle and his views of women and slaves, or Kant, and his views of women or people of African descent.

For example, Confucian ethics might be seen as providing a needed emphasis on the central value of relationship in most, if not all, human lives that are worth living. In response to the Socratic claim that the unexamined life is not worth living, the Confucian might be on at least equal footing in saying that an isolated life is not worth living. Yet the Confucian is also required to examine what sorts of relationships should have this high status. Does Confucianism require family relationships that are patriarchal, with the husband and father exercising authority over wife and children in ways that would inevitably offend values of equality and autonomy? A recurring theme in the more recent literature on this subject is that views of women in the early period of Confucianism were relatively positive compared to the views adopted later.

Raphals has extracted from the literature of the Warring States Period during which Confucius lived and the later Han Dynasty portraits of women who were active and sometimes very effective participants in their societies. At the same time, it must be said that the powerful women of ancient China were almost always excluded from official positions of power and authority. It is assumed in those texts that the proper roles for women lie in the inner, domestic sphere, and for men the outer, public sphere. This distinction, argues Chan, is functional and conceived as obtaining between complementary roles, not between women and men conceived as inferior and superior. But the consignment of women to the inner sphere does exclude them from one of the most central aspirations of the junzi , which is to serve in public office.

It also excludes them from receiving the education that is a preparation for office. At the same time, there is no attempt to justify the exclusion of women from this aspiration, and no argument given in these texts that they possess lesser capabilities for achieving that aspiration, no conception of women as having inferior capacities for the development of strategic intelligence, moral wisdom, or self-discipline. The inference is to the possibility of a version of Confucian ethics that fully acknowledges the capabilities of women to become junzi and that supports opportunities for them to achieve that ideal.

Some who are sympathetic to this line of development for Confucian ethics have argued for its significant affinities with some strains of feminist thought. Consider ren in its meaning as the particular virtue of care for others. Chenyang Li has argued that there are important similarities between this central Confucian virtue and the feminist ethic of care articulated by Carol Gilligan and Nell Noddings Furthermore, both Confucian and feminist care ethics have conceptions of ethical reasoning that emphasize contextualized reasoning about moral problems rather than deducing solutions top-down from high general principles.

Li acknowledges the patriarchal form that Confucian ethics came to take on, but stresses that in a contemporary dialogue between these two ethics, each could have something to contribute to the other. Rosenlee ; also see addresses a criticism of care ethics of either the Confucian or Western feminist sort that has come from some feminist quarters, which is that care is a value pressed upon women so that they might be subordinate helpmates to men. Rosenlee defends the Confucian value of filiality or xiao as the root of moral character, starting the project of caring with addressing the vulnerability of the child, then through the stages where a child reciprocates care for parents, and getting extended beyond the family.

Kupperman holds that Confucian ethics could benefit from adopting the feminist recognition that many social roles and the rituals that support them need to be reformed and perhaps re-invented in some cases, given the limiting and inhibiting effect they have on the life projects women have chosen or could have chosen for themselves Meyers, The issue of the Confucian orientation to tradition is itself a matter of contested interpretation. In her account of how Chinese thinkers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries approached the task of bringing to bear Western thought to the reform of their own society, Jenco points out that a crucial part of their task was to identify what their own cultural inheritance was, such that it could be brought into relation to a present and future that involved possibly profound transformation.

The relationship between Confucian ethics and liberal democratic values has received vigorous and diverse discussion starting from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Joseph Chan has classified Confucian ethics, along with much of ancient Greek ethics, as perfectionist in structure. Many of the central ethical judgments in Confucianism have to do what what it is to live a good human life, and the virtues it takes to live such a life. As indicated earlier, the Confucian conception of a good human life is centered around relationships--within the family, within friendship, and also within a society in which one aspires to serve a government by advancing the mission of securing the material and moral welfare of the people.

From the standpoint of a contemporary liberal democratic theory, one might question how much room this leaves people to choose among a plurality of reasonable conceptions of the good life. Certainly, many contemporary Americans and Europeans would not place so central an emphasis on family relationship and on filiality as Confucians do. Chan , proposes to defuse this tension through advocating a moderate Confucian perfectionism that refrains from promoting a comprehensive view of how people ought to live. The liberal argument that conceptions of the good life are too controversial to be promoted by the state does not apply, he argues, to some important constituents of the Confucian conception of how to live--prudential goods and goods necessary for agency.

Such goods, when separated from a comprehensive conception that orders and prioritizes them into a particular way of life, can be promoted in piecemeal fashion through non-coercive methods in the context of particular issues, and justifications can be given on the basis of common ground and compromise. On the other hand, if one does leave enough that is distinctively and traditionally Confucian, Kim argues, one will not have a perfectionism that is moderate enough to be compatible with the pluralistic, diverse character of contemporary East Asian societies.

The two sides must accommodate to each other. One of the challenges Kim may have to address is whether in the dialogue between traditional Confucianism and democratic values there emerges something that is coherent and still distinctively Confucian. The previously discussed commentators on Confucianism and gender equality illustrate how it might be argued that gender equality is more compatible with Confucian values than they are usually thought to be.

Angle addresses the tension between perfectionism and pluralism about the good life by developing an argument he finds in the twentieth century Confucian Mou Zongsan. Mou holds that politics must ultimately be based on moral values but is concerned about the excesses of governments trying to promote particular conceptions of virtue and the good life. Given the difficulties of achieving ethical insight, even among the most accomplished of human beings, it is necessary to separate to some degree political values from ethical value.

In practice, Angle explains, self-restriction means putting in place democratic institutions and the recognition of human rights. This not only sets up guardrails to keep political leaders from going badly off track, but also provides citizens the opportunity to participation in public life that is needed to advance their own ethical insight and further realize good character. Tan argues that Confucian methods for encouraging the realization of virtues are non-coercive because its conception of the good life is process-oriented and fallibilistic, and its conception of personhood is social and relational.

What growth amounts to is something that can be meaningfully judged only within the particular circumstances and the processes that have led up to the present. A figure such as Confucius has authority not just because of who he is but because others respond to him with spontaneous acceptance, admiration, and emulation. Since Tan holds that these Confucian conceptions are eminently plausible, she argues that not only is Confucianism compatible with democracy, but that democracy needs to incorporate the insights of Confucianism.

In the Western tradition, she finds in John Dewey a thinker who is sympathetic to these insights. In section 2. These points have ramifications for the issue of whether Confucianism can recognize individual rights. Furthermore, Confucians might have a legitimate concern that an emphasis on individual rights, as things that can be claimed against the group, tends to encourage people to think of their interests as incompatible with the interests of others.

These considerations should hold some weight for Confucians, but so do some other considerations that support protections for individuals. Confucianism can recognize that individuals do not always accurately perceive or act on the fundamental compatibility between individual and group interests. Rights might be necessary in case relationships irretrievably break down and individuals need to be protected. One might go further than Chan does and give rights a more prominent place if one expects regular misfiring on attempts to reconcile individual and group interests e.

Providing these protections under the heading of rights may help to protect citizens when the content of their speech concerns the wrongful or misconceived conduct and policies of an office holder. Wong, A more positive justification for rights might be rooted in Confucian values. Kim argues for equal rights of political participation based in the Mencian view that all human beings have the moral sprouts within their nature. What kept Mencius from recognizing an equal right to participation is his commitment to the sage-king paradigm of government, but such an arrangement is a non-starter for even contemporary East Asian societies with a substantial Confucian heritage.

Indeed, if one goes back to the classical Confucian notion of harmony discussed in section 2. Harmony is not sameness of viewpoint but makes use of diversity of viewpoint. In Analects 9. Positive arguments for rights based on the goal of promoting the common good emerged in Chinese thought soon after it encountered the idea of rights from the West in the nineteenth century. For example, it was argued that individuals ought to have a range of freedom of expression and action so that they can contribute more richly and originally to the welfare of Chinese society.

Emphasis on the former would be the relatively new element in a contemporary Confucianism, but 1B6 of the Mencius provides a striking anticipation of this element. Here King Xuan tells Mencius that his ability to be a true king for his people is thwarted by his desires for wealth and for sex. Mencius replies that if the King accords the common people the same privileges for wealth and sex, there would be no problem in becoming a true king. Xunzi see section 2. Later on in the tradition, Dai Zhen defended the legitimacy of self-interested desire as long as it is tempered by a proper concern for others see Tiwald, a; and section 2.

The above arguments on behalf of recognizing rights within a Confucian framework provide resources for addressing the worry that rights undermine social harmony. Achieving harmony is a continuous process of adjusting to inevitable differences even among reasonable individuals. Providing a forum for the airing of differences can positively contribute to a better and more inclusive view of the common good.

Rights need not be justified in a way that opposes them to the common good but can in fact be construed as necessary for its realization. It might be argued that however much Confucianism evolves, it would be difficult to conceive of it without the idea that the wisest, most virtuous and competent should rule. Meritocracy is not in outright contradiction with popular sovereignty. One might hold that people should vote for those best equipped to promote the common good, for example, and one might further argue that in contemporary circumstances, Confucians have other reasons to take on board democratic institutions of citizen participation.

Inspiration for the idea of combining legitimacy founded on popular election and legitimacy founded on merit originally came from a proposal by the influential contemporary Confucian Jiang Qing However, his proposal includes a third legislative chamber consisting of those representing the cultural and religious heritage of China, which most others have not included. Joseph Chan has argued that Confucianism may do well to incorporate democratic electoral institutions to hold political leaders accountable to the common good. Accordingly, he proposes that there should be a democratically elected legislative chamber in a Confucian moderately perfectionist government. However, as democratic institutions are known not to necessarily result in the selection of the wisest, most virtuous and competent, Chan proposes a second legislative chamber to be paired with the first, the members of this second being chosen on the basis of demonstrated merit, in terms of virtue and competence, as chosen by those who have had the opportunity to observe them in action, such as colleagues and experienced journalists.

In fact, the primary function of the second chamber, in his view, is to advance this educative goal. Daniel Bell and Tongdong Bai , have proposed that one legislative chamber be comprised of elected representatives and the other by those selected on the basis of exams and previous performance in office. Bell and Bai are more pessimistic than Chan is about the prospects for modern democratic citizenry to make good choices.

Bai points out that the ancient Greeks had slaves that made it possible for them to fully participate in the Assembly, and they belonged to a small city state, not a large society with many complex issues that require specialized knowledge to handle, and not one that gives rise to enormous inequalities that undermine the sense of a common good. Even if individuals had the time and motivation to to be more informed, they are subject to a wide array of cognitive biases that they are liable to get little help in correcting. He let go of the bicameral proposal because he became convinced that the democratically elected chamber would eventually dominate.

Bell argues that democracy works best at the local level where voters are more likely to know the virtue and ability of the leaders they select. The issues are relatively straightforward and easier to understand. It is easier to generate a sense of community at that level. At the highest levels of government, the issues are much more complex. Bell is well aware of problems for realizing the ideal of virtuous and able leaders.

There is corruption and ossification of an elite who are likely to come from and select colleagues from a narrow set of social, economic and educational backgrounds. Even if these problems could be addressed through institutional reform, there is in the end a need to legitimize conferring so much power and prestige on an elite who might not be that different from others in society who choose different vocations.

Bell concludes that democracy perhaps in the form of a popular referendum on the vertical model might be necessary for the legitimacy of a political meritocracy, even in a country with a Confucian heritage such as China. One common characteristic of the contemporary writing on Confucianism, rights and democracy is its relative openness to alternatives. There is less of a tendency to assume that a single model of government is right for all societies, even all large contemporary societies, or even all large, developed countries.

At the same time, there is openness to learning from the experience of other societies. The Mohists constituted a philosophical school founded by Mozi, who was roughly contemporaneous with Confucius. Not much is known about him, but a reasonable speculation is that Mozi came from an artisan background. The text bearing his name contains purported quotations from Mozi, but it is manifestly the contribution of different persons over a substantial period of time. The text advocates a consequentialist ethic that requires concern and acting for the benefit of all, where the kind of benefit of greatest concern involves material goods to satisfy the basic needs of all e.

Arguably, Mohists were justified in setting their priorities on the most urgent needs. The Mozi is quite explicit in its consequentialism. Chapter 35 names three fa or standards for judging the viability of beliefs and theories. One standard is of usefulness. In applying this standard, one assesses the viability of a belief or theory according to the beneficial or harmful consequences of acting on it. Another standard is that of consulting the origin, which is the historical record on the actions of the sage-kings. One determines whether the belief or theory being judged accords with those actions. The third standard is looking at evidence provided by the eyes and ears of the people. This seems to refer to observations that garner some degree of intersubjective consensus.

Each standard is presented as if its validity might be independent from the others, but there are indications that the standard of usefulness is the most basic one. Furthermore, arguments given in the Mozi that are purportedly based on intersubjective observation seem extremely dubious, e. At one point in chapter 31, in fact, the possibility that ghosts do not exist is explicitly admitted, but sacrifices to spirits are justified on the grounds that they produce good effects among the living. Ghosts in general are put to good use in the text: their primary activity is to avenge themselves upon the living persons who have done them wrong.

The standard of usefulness guides application of the other standards. Even what seems to be the attempted justification of the standard of usefulness by reference to the will of tian or Heaven in chapter 26 has a circularity to it. Furthermore, the will of Heaven is demonstrated by the fact that wrongdoers are punished and the virtuous rewarded. Again, the evidence seems highly selective and is guided by the very standard of usefulness that it is seeemingly being justified. A crucial issue in the interpretation of Mohism is what kind of concern for all it requires. As indicated earlier, Mencius interpreted the Mohist advocacy of jian ai to be advocacy of equal or impartial care for all, but some of the more important contemporary scholarship of Mohism has problematized this interpretation.

People who do nothing to benefit others if they are not related to them in the right way, or even harm them, are contrasted with those who act according to jian ai. In the later two chapters, we are told to care for others as we care for ourselves, to view others as we view ourselves, or to be for others as we are for ourselves. Such formulations might reasonably be taken to require equality or impartiality of care. However, the jian ai chapters consistently count among the failures to care for others failures of filiality between fathers and sons. They correspondingly count among the benefits of acting according to jian ai the realization of relational virtues such as filiality.

Chiu concludes that jian ai means only caring for everyone with no requirement in equality of care. Further complicating the situation is the necessity to distinguish jian ai as a prescription for the attitude to take toward others and a prescription for conduct toward them. To have equal care as an attitude does not entail acting toward others in the same way. Indeed, the limited nature of the mental and physical resources available to the individual agent seems to necessitate some degree of inequality of action toward others.

This may be at least partly why the jian ai chapters are relatively modest in their prescriptions for how individuals are to benefit others, even though there is some expansion of requirement in the later chapters. In fact even the latter prescriptions do not seem incompatible with what might be prescribed in the way of conduct by Confucian care with distinctions: refraining from harming others, engaging in relationships of mutual aid, and contributing to the support of those least able to care for themselves and who lack families able to protect them.

Thus the Mohists may eventually have come to the view that a division of moral labor is suitable for most people. Most can satisfy the duties of righteousness yi through refraining from harming others, devoting more of their resources to benefiting those in traditional relationships with them such as family, engaging in mutual aid in somewhat larger groups such as the village, being prepared to contribute along with others to the support and protection of the most needy, and being loyal to those charged with seeing to the benefit of much larger groups. To avoid conflict a strict nested hierarchy of authority must be instituted: the Son of Heaven rules over the entire country with the help of ministers, and the country is divided into states, which are further divided into fiefdoms, and so on.

Each social unit has its superior whose word on what is right is final to subordinates though one may remonstrate with a superior if one believes them wrong , and each unit must report to the superior of the next larger unit containing it. The Son of Heaven is accountable to Heaven, Tian , a more clearly and consistently anthropomorphized deity than the Confucian Tian , and whose will is that people benefit and not harm one another. Honoring the relational virtues of family may be justified on the grounds that it is part of a social division of labor that most efficiently contributes to the benefit of all. It may also be, as Fraser has suggested, that the Mohist conception of benefit li includes the realization of such virtues as goods in themselves.

Even if one interprets the attitudinal component as requiring equal or impartial care, the conduct component might consist of only a moderately demanding norms for benefiting others. Heaven is treated as a kind of model for human beings. That Heaven is taken as a direct model in this way is significant for the question of whether jian ai taken in its attitudinal component means equal concern or merely concern that can vary in degree. According to the text, it benefits and nourishes everyone; it rewards those who aid others and punishes those who harm others.

It provides life and sustenance to rich and poor, noble and low, kin and nonkin; it created the regular and constant pattern of the seasons and weather that makes all these broadly distributed benefits possible. Heaven also can serve as a model for conduct, such that one might not only benefit all in the sense of conforming to norms that would generally benefit everyone if enough people do their part, but also directly try to benefit as many people as possible, especially if one is in a position of means and influence.

In the 16th chapter, King Wen is extolled as having exemplified the practice of jian ai. His practice was like the illumination of the sun and the moon, showing no favoritism to any direction or region. King Wen here exemplifies what can be a more demanding virtue than righteousness, which is benevolence in the Mohist text this probably the best translation of ren. Fraser points out that in some of the later chapters of the Mozi that feature dialogues between Mozi and others, an ideal of sagehood emerges that is much more demanding than the prescriptions issued for everyone in the jian ai chapters. In chapter 49, righteousness is characterized as lying largely in helping others Fraser More radically, chapter 47 quotes Mozi as advocating the elimination of happiness, anger, joy, sorrow, likes and dislikes and dedicating oneself solely to benevolence and righteousness.

Thus there might have been an evolution towards this more demanding ideal late in the Mohist movement, but perhaps, as Fraser suggests, this ideal was treated as applicable only to the most devoted of Mohists. This greater complexity associated with what it means to care for all might be a feature of any consequentialist ethic that takes seriously the idea of equal or impartial concern. Even if care as an attitude does not necessarily require trying to directly promote the benefit of all, the more capacity one has to promote the welfare of large numbers of people, the more one may or should feel bound to do so. Even if one acknowledges relationships such as those one finds in good families to have value in themselves, one might also be moved by the recognition that these things are valuable to everyone.

It is perhaps no accident that similar ambiguities are displayed in Western forms of consequentialism. These forms typically focus on the good an individual could do on their own, regardless of whether others act similarly. When combined with the idea that others are no less morally important than oneself, these forms tend to justify very strong duties on the part of those with relatively plentiful resources to aid others. Such forms of consequentialism, e. How, then, does Mohist ethics differ from Confucian ethics in the end?

Because Confucian care with distinctions requires the extension of care to nonkin, and because Mohists by and large prescribed a modestly demanding form of jian ai as applied to conduct toward others, there is not as dramatic a practical difference as one might first think between Confucian and Mohist ethics. Confucians accept that there are plural sources of moral duty, and that conflicts between the reasons provided by these sources must be dealt with through the discretion and weighing of judgment.

While Mohists appear to put forward a monistic source of duty—promoting benefits and avoiding harms, a plausible reading of the Mozi has it including plural sources of benefit, e. They may also have to resort to discretion and weighing of judgment when there are conflicts between plural goods. Mohists might attach more weight to the value of doing good for the most people when it comes into conflict with loyalty to kin, but there is no explicit position on this question in the Mozi. There are certainly differences between the two ethics on the value of ritual and musical performance. Of course, many Confucians might be unhappy with the Mohist portrayal of their tradition as insisting on extravagantly expensive performances.

This feature of Confucian ethics, which it shares with classical Greek virtue ethics, distances it from Mohism. Furthermore, as pointed out earlier, the Confucian conception of a humanly fulfilling way of life has aesthetic and emotionally expressive dimensions that set it further apart from Mohism. The focus on ritual and music exemplifies a deep concern for graceful and skillful enactments of concern and respect for others. To express these attitudes in a fitting and beautiful way is intrinsically valuable.

While Mencius does not emphasize such a function for the practice of ritual and music, he does conceive of moral cultivation as nurturing the inborn emotional sensibilities that find fulfillment in relationship to others. He recognizes the danger of overfeeding the small part of the self that takes pleasure in eating and drinking. This need to shape and train the self stands in contrast with the aforementioned Mohist assumption that the main cause of social conflict is the variety of different conceptions of what is right that individuals tend to have.

There is no indication in this Mohist diagnosis that there is any special difficulty in getting oneself or others to try to do what one thinks is right. In the Daodejing the text is associated with Laozi and is thought to have originated sometime in the period of 6 th -3 rd century B. It may seem that such a distanced and detached perspective has no ethical content or implications, but that is to assume an overly narrow vision of the ethical. Daoist ethics emphasizes appropriate responsiveness to the broader world that shapes and enfolds the human social world. The nature of the vision of the broader world is open to dispute.

A traditional interpretation of the Daodejing is that it conveys a metaphysical vision of the dao as the source of all things, and that this source is specially associated in nonbeing and emptiness as contrasted with being, perhaps suggesting that the dao is an indeterminate ontological ground in which the myriad individual things are incipient. Some contemporary commentators hold that the traditional interpretation is an imposition on the text of later metaphysical concerns Hansen, ; LaFargue, Others hew closer to the traditional interpretation, citing passages such as those in chapter 4, where Dao is described as being empty, as seeming something like the ancestor of the myriad of things, as appearing to precede the Lord di.

However that issue is resolved, it is apparent that a certain conception of the patterns of nature is embedded in the text and informs its ethical recommendations. Consider the characterizations of natural processes as falling into one or another of opposites: there is the active, aggressive, hard, and the male, on the one hand; and there is the passive, yielding, soft, and female, on the other hand later these forces were much more explicitly associated with yang and yin. The Daodejing extols the efficacy of the second. Whereas the first is associated with strength, the second, it is often said, possesses a deeper, underlying strength as demonstrated by water overcoming the hard and unyielding chapter For example, chapter 66 says that one who desires to rule must in his words humble himself before the people, and that one who desires to lead the people must in his person follow them.

Chapter 75 says that rulers eat up too much in taxes and therefore people are hungry. Rulers are too fond of action and therefore the people are difficult to govern. Setting too much store on life makes people treat death lightly. The last point brings out the related theme that striving after something often produces the opposite of the intended result. One of the more prominent themes in the Daodejing is the rejection of moralism: a preoccupation with and striving to become good or virtuous. Chapter 19 says to exterminate ren and discard yi righteousness or rectitude , and the people will recover filial love.

The second alternative is consistent with a theme plausibly attributed to the text: that all dichotomies and all valuations based on them are unreliable in the end, even evaluations that are reversals of the conventionally accepted ones. On the other hand, many of the prescriptions in the Daodejing seem premised on the conception of there being genuine human needs that are simple and few in number, and that desires going beyond these needs are the source of trouble and conflict. Carried to its logical limit, this primitivism implies the existence of a natural goodness with which human beings ought to become attuned.

Indeed, the first of the three treasures of chapter 67 is ci or compassion. The ethics of the Daodejing is in these respects less radical and iconoclastic than some of its anti-moralistic language might suggest. If we are not to strive after goodness, it is there nevertheless as something that we must recover. On this point the Zhuangzi often sounds a much more skeptical note. How do I know that we who hate death are not exiles since childhood who have forgotten the way home?

The human pretension to know what is true and important is lampooned by comparing it to the pretension of the cicada and turtle dove to know by their own experiences of flight the possibilities of how high creatures can fly. There is no vision of a primitivist utopia here either. Rather, the dominant attitude towards the possibility of large-scale social change for the better is pessimism. On this matter, the Zhuangzi not only diverges from the primitivist Utopian strain in the Daodejing but also more forcefully from the earnest and ever-striving idealism of the Confucians. His exploration of the rich history of Chinese texts dealing with warfare provides a valuable resource to an under-analyzed aspect of contemporary virtue theory. Focusing on the group of texts that come to be known as The Seven Military Classics, Lo Ping-cheung discusses how the military virtues provide guidance on both when and how to engage in combat Often the relevant virtues are simply listed, and I would have appreciated a fuller explanation of them.

Taigon also gives ten excesses exhibited by commanders, some of which are interestingly paired with what would usually be considered virtuous dispositions. For instance, does the inclusion of apparent virtues in the dispositional weaknesses of generals suggest a virtue particularism? Further, it invites reflection on how virtue and vice interact. This chapter provides a particularly obvious example of a strong feature of the collection as a whole, in inviting further reflection on distinctive features of the Chinese virtue tradition.

Kai Machal and Andrew Terjesen consider the importance of justice and empathy respectively. The collection ends with an interesting article by Marion Hourdequin, in which she argues that empathy must be directed properly if it is to provide moral guidance, a point she makes by referencing the famous story of King Xuan and the sacrificial ox as told by Mencius — In his article in this section, Stephen Angle provides a study of the role of conscientiousness in early Confucianism, arguing that it plays an important role, but is distinct from and inferior to virtue proper Confucius himself distinguishes the conscientious person from the closely related hypocritical village worthy.

Both are alike in that their behavior, which conforms to prescribed actions, does not match their psychology. Both, therefore, often act again their inclinations when they perform correct action. The conscientious person, however, is superior in that he consistently, and for the most part successfully, follows the right course of action Confucius also emphasizes the importance of conscientious action in developing full virtue, a position adopted by other early Confucian thinkers. According to Angle, Mencius is even more ambivalent in his attitude towards the conscientious person. Instead, in line with his distinctive position that we have innate moral proclivities, Mencius encourages the development of full virtue — Interestingly, he explicitly distinguishes between scholars, who successfully model behavior on virtuous exemplars, the gentleman, whose dispositions partly track proper action, and the sage, whose transformed inner nature results in effortless virtuous activity — He illustrates persuasively that the Confucian tradition is a valuable resource for thinking through the benefits and drawbacks of a potential virtue with which contemporary virtue theory has also shown ambivalence.

One benefit of his account is in using conscientiousness to illustrate the distinction between the fully virtuous sage, and one in process of developing virtue. As he points out, it also illustrates the role of rule-following as a transitional but also transformative aspect of developing virtue I also appreciated his choice of what we might call a semi-virtue for his object of analysis. I was surprised, however, to find Angle focusing mainly on Confucian critiques of the conscientious person emphasizing the instrumental value of the virtues. For Confucius, the conscientious person is unreliable in his actions — 84 , while for Mencius, the conscientious person aims at too low a standard of virtue But surely a deeper drawback of a lack of virtue must reference the intrinsic value of virtue itself.

Although I have only discussed a limited selection of the essays in this collection, I hope to have given some indication of its value, both to specialists of Confucian philosophy, as well as those like myself who are intrigued by the possibility of comparative study of the virtues. I strongly recommend the collection as a whole, and thank Stephen Angle and Michael Slote for their efforts in bringing it forward. Related Papers. Toward a Synthesis of Confucianism and Aristotelianism. By Bryan W Van Norden. Virtues and Roles in Early Confucian Ethics. By Tim Connolly. By Yong Huang. Well-Being and Confucianism. By Richard Kim.

Virtue ethics and the Chinese Confucian tradition. By Philip Ivanhoe. Download file. Remember me on this computer. Enter the email address you signed up with and we'll email you a reset link. Need an account? Click here to sign up.

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