Ethics in Early China

Ethics in Early China: An Anthology

Chris Fraser
Dan Robins
Timothy O’Leary
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ethics in Early China
    Book Description:

    Early Chinese ethics has attracted increasing scholarly and social attention in recent years, as the virtue ethics movement in Western philosophy sparked renewed interest in Confucianism and Daoism. Meanwhile, intellectuals and social commentators throughout greater China have looked to the Chinese ethical tradition for resources to evaluate the role of traditional cultural values in the contemporary world. Publications on early Chinese ethics have tended to focus uncritical attention toward Confucianism, while neglecting Daoism, Mohism, and shared features of Chinese moral psychology. This book aims to rectify this imbalance with provocative interpretations of classical ethical theories including widely neglected views of the Mohists and newly reconstructed accounts of the “embodied virtue” tradition, which ties ethics to physical cultivation. The volume also addresses the broader question of the value of comparative philosophy generally and of studying early Chinese ethics in particular. The book should have a wide readership among professional scholars and graduate students in Chinese philosophy, specifically Confucian ethics, Daoist ethics, and comparative ethics.

    eISBN: 978-988-8053-78-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword: The Professor’s Dé 德, or the Many-Sided Chad Hansen
    (pp. vii-x)
    Donald J. Munro

    Chad Hansen was a graduate student at Michigan and I was a junior faculty member when I first started making judgments about some of our analytic philosophers. They made useful and intriguing contributions to philosophy. They made me especially aware of the importance of precise argument, consistency, clarity of meaning of the terms we employ, and many issues about language. At the same time, their definition of philosophy was narrow, unlike anything I had studied among the Platonists in the early period or among the American pragmatists in the modern United States. Chad and I shared an approval of those...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Contributors
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Early Chinese ethics has attracted increasing attention in recent years, both within and outside the academy.¹ Western moral philosophers have begun to devote more attention to ethical traditions other than their own, and the virtue ethics movement has sparked interest in Confucianism and Daoism. In China, both academics and the general public have been self-consciously looking to their own early ethical tradition for resources on which to draw in shaping China’s twenty-first-century ethical and political culture.

    Despite this growing interest, however, many features of early Chinese ethics remain unclear or controversial, and many aspects of its significance for contemporary moral...

  7. Part One: New Readings
    • 1 Were the Early Confucians Virtuous?
      (pp. 17-40)
      Roger T. Ames and Henry Rosemont Jr.

      We respond negatively to the question entitling our essay. While the vocabulary of virtue ethics for describing the early Confucian vision of the moral life (dào 道) is superior to those linked to Kantian or utilitarian principle-based ethical theories, that vocabulary, too, forces the Master and his followers more into the mold of Western philosophical discourse than they ought to be placed, in our opinion, and hence makes it difficult to see the Confucian vision as a genuine alternative to those with which we are most familiar.

      Instead, we will claim that (1) early (pre-Buddhist) Confucianism is best described as...

    • 2 Mencius as Consequentialist
      (pp. 41-64)
      Manyul Im

      In this chapter, I lay out the reasons for trying to understand Mencius by attributing a consequentialist moral theory to him. This is meant in part as an oblique criticism of readings on which he is construed as a “virtue ethicist.” It is also meant to be something of a reply to Chad Hansen’s (1992) consistently severe dismissals of Mencius as a competent thinker about ethics. However, the scope of my argument here is limited to the positive argument in favor of reading Mencius as a consequentialist.¹ I argue that, on the best systematic sense we can make of the...

    • 3 No Need for Hemlock: Mencius’s Defense of Tradition
      (pp. 65-82)
      Franklin Perkins

      Of the various labels one might use to characterize the essence of Confucianism, “traditionalist” is one of the more obvious. Certainly their opponents, from Mòzǐ to Zhuāngzǐ to Hàn Fēizi, portray Confucians as clinging to tradition, but this orientation goes back to Confucius’s own self-image. Among his most famous words was this self-description: “A transmitter and not a maker [shù ér bú zuò 述而不作], sincere and loving the ancients, I compare myself to Old Péng” (Lún Yǔ 7:1). This chapter examines the problematic intersection between reliance on tradition and demands for justification, particularly the implications of this tension for the...

    • 4 Mohism and Motivation
      (pp. 83-104)
      Chris Fraser

      Mòzǐ and his followers saw themselves largely as social and political reformers, dedicated to eliminating war, eradicating poverty, and promoting prosperity and social order. The aim of Mohist ethical and political thought thus was not just to elucidate the dào 道 (the right way or norms) but to lead society as a whole to follow it. Despite this practical orientation, however, the Mohists are widely regarded as having only a thin, crude view of human motivation — one so simplistic as to leave them without a plausible account of how to lead people to practice their dào.¹ The purpose of this...

    • 5 “It Goes beyond Skill”
      (pp. 105-124)
      Dan Robins

      In early Chinese discourse, a dào 道 was most often a norm-governed way of doing something, such as filling a role, engaging in an activity, or achieving some goal. The dào promoted by the various masters were of this sort, for example. But there are also texts according to which dào is prior to and gives rise to the cosmos. For example, Book 6 of the Zhuāngzǐ tells us that “dào . . . [is] from the basis, from the root, when there were not yet heaven and earth, since ancient times it has persisted . . . it produces...

    • 6 The Sounds of Zhèngmíng: Setting Names Straight in Early Chinese Texts
      (pp. 125-142)
      Jane Geaney

      In early Chinese texts, straightness often indicates correctness, hence many things are said to be zhèng 正.¹ But among them, only zhèngmíng 正名 emerged as a rhetorical slogan promising the production of order and elimination of human confusion and fakeness.² In scholarship on Chinese ethics, the slogan is usually understood as working toward these goals by making behavior accord with names or by making “names” (norms or social roles) accord with behavior. By contrast, on the assumption that uses of the term “míng” (name/title/fame) involved what something is called or what is heard about it, the chapter focuses on interpreting...

    • 7 Embodied Virtue, Self-Cultivation, and Ethics
      (pp. 143-158)
      Lisa Raphals

      Virtue ethics, one of the three major contemporary approaches to normative ethics, places emphasis on virtue or moral character. Within the Greek context on which it draws, it is centrally concerned with the key concepts of virtue (aretê), practical wisdom (phronesis), and the “good life” (eudaimonia).¹ In this chapter I offer a view of the first two, aretê and phronesis, that differs from the prevailing approaches of virtue ethics. I explore Chinese and Greek views of virtue and character derived from self-cultivation practices based on notions of ethics and virtue as specifically embodied and of selves that are “cultivated” by...

  8. Part Two: New Departures
    • 8 Moral Tradition Respect
      (pp. 161-174)
      Philip J. Ivanhoe

      In “The Normative Impact of Comparative Ethics: Human Rights,” Chad Hansen develops and employs the notion of moral tradition respect (hereafter MTR) to argue for a particular view about the role of comparative ethics in moral philosophy (Hansen 2004). His immediate aim in developing a conception of MTR is to describe criteria for respecting other moral traditions, by which he means “taking seriously” a moral tradition, foreign or domestic, outside the mainstream of a broadly liberal view of rights.¹ Such “respect” is based upon three conditions concerning the distinctiveness, structural complexity, and ethical success of a moral tradition, and these...

    • 9 Piecemeal Progress: Moral Traditions, Modern Confucianism, and Comparative Philosophy
      (pp. 175-196)
      Stephen C. Angle

      What relevance do alternative moral traditions, such as early Chinese ethical thinking, have for people in the contemporary world? For example, suppose that we can find in early Confucian ethics particular values that are distinctively different from Western notions. How important would such a finding be today? According to three influential accounts of comparative ethics, the presence (or absence) of any given concept is not, on its own, of much significance. Chad Hansen, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Thomas Metzger all emphasize the importance of holistic units of analysis like “traditions and discourses” rather than focusing on individual ideas; all would suggest...

    • 10 Agon and Hé: Contest and Harmony
      (pp. 197-216)
      David B. Wong

      In this chapter, I consider two values that are usually taken to be in tension with each other: the value of agon or contest, a central value of Greek classical culture, and the value of 和 or harmony, a central value of Chinese classical culture. The association of these values with the Greek and Chinese traditions respectively leads to contrasts between the “combative individualism of the West” and the “harmonious social humanism of China.” Agon and are often taken to be mutually exclusive. However, I shall argue in this chapter that contest and harmony co-exist in both the...

    • 11 Confucianism and Moral Intuition
      (pp. 217-232)
      William A. Haines

      Much modern moral philosophy has sought theories that explain and correct our “moral intuitions” — as though feelings without apparent grounds can amount to prima facie knowledge of what to do or what is moral. The better we understand the possible mechanisms of intuitive knowledge, in general and about morality, the better we can evaluate or pursue this project.

      Looking mainly at the Analects, the Lǐjì 禮記, and the Mencius, I shall argue that early Confucianism has much to show us about such mechanisms. The early Confucians developed, engaged in, and promoted a set of practices meant to improve our sensibility...

    • 12 Chapter 38 of the Dàodéjīng as an Imaginary Genealogy of Morals
      (pp. 233-244)
      Jiwei Ci

      I want to discuss two short passages from Chapter 38 of the Dàodéjīng 道德經. The first, given below, contains a laconic description of a process of decline, beginning with the loss of dào 道 and culminating in the breakdown of order:

      When dào is lost, then arises 德;

      When is lost, then arises rén 仁;

      When rén is lost, then arises 義;

      When is lost, then arises 禮.

      bespeaks the shortage of loyalty and fidelity

      and heralds the breakdown of order.¹

      This passage (call it the “decline” passage) tends to be approached without any...

    • 13 Poetic Language: Zhuāngzǐ and Dù Fǔ’s Confucian Ideals
      (pp. 245-266)
      Lee H. Yearley

      Zhuāngzǐ 莊子 not only lives within the later poetic tradition, but that tradition also grapples with, even is mesmerized by, both the “core” text and the early interpretive attempts that appear in the volume entitled the Zhuāngzǐ. Zhuāngzǐ’s effect on specific poets is often clear, and illuminating examples include Táo Qián 陶潛, Lǐ Bái 李白, and Sū Shì 蘇軾, to note just poets who represent different perspectives, come from significantly different periods in history, and are acknowledged to be among the tradition’s very greatest poets.¹

      I examine here, however, a different kind of example, the one presented by Dù Fǔ...

    • 14 Dào as a Naturalistic Focus
      (pp. 267-296)
      Chad Hansen

      Modern ethical naturalism has the challenge of showing how normativity, broadly speaking, is a feature of the natural world — a description, roughly, acceptable in the language of modern natural science. I argued in 2005 that a concept like dào (ways) could be a key to doing this, but the conclusion was overstated. The concept can be used in expressing a positivist traditionalism, social or rational constructivism, or emotivism, among other positions, as well as naturalism. Its usefulness in expressing normative judgments needs to be buttressed by a claim that dào-expression helps make the case for naturalism better. I argue here...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 297-302)
    Chad Hansen

    I am humbled that so many of my academic friends and colleagues have honored me by writing about themes related to my work. Reading and thinking over their contributions have led me to reflect on the courses that brought me into my pleasant and productive relations with each of them. A conceptual theme in Zhuāngzǐ shapes my reflections: his concept of dependence. I have seen this concept as central to his thinking in the region where Western thinkers struggle to tease out the puzzling interplay of reasons and causes. Each of us is dependent broadly on our past dàos. Each...

  10. Index
    (pp. 303-312)