Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Two Concepts of Roles

There are many images and metaphors that might serve as cores of conceptions of something for which one could use the English word “role.”  One way to look for some is to look at words from other languages.  I’ll look here at two, one from Greek and one from old Chinese.

Continue reading “Two Concepts of Roles”

June 15, 2017 Posted by | Analects, Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory, Roger Ames, Role Ethics | 5 comments

New Book: Fraser, The Philosophy of the Mozi

I am very happy to share the news that Columbia University Press has published Chris Fraser’s (ahem, long-awaited :-)) book:

The Philosophy of the Mòzi: The First Consequentialists

Congratulations, Chris! Information here.

September 25, 2016 Posted by | Books of Interest, Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory, Mohism | one comment

CFP: Volume on Moral Expertise

An opportunity to expand horizons — introduce this audience to the junzi?

Call for Abstracts

for an edited collection under contract with Springer:

Moral Expertise: New Essays from Theoretical and Clinical Perspectives

Editors: Jamie Carlin Watson, PhD and Laura Guidry-Grimes, PhD(c)

Deadline for Abstracts: October 31st, 2016
Continue reading “CFP: Volume on Moral Expertise”

August 24, 2016 Posted by | Call for Papers (CFP), Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory | no comments

Crary the Neo-Confucian? NDPR Reviews Inside Ethics

I’ve long been interested in Alice Crary’s work — her 2007 book is reviewed here — in part because of intriguing resonances between her ideas and some aspects of Neo-Confucianism that I find most attractive, such as the need to “discern patterns” in an “already moral world.” These issues come out even more strongly in her latest book, Inside Ethics, which is reviewed here. Rejecting an “ethically indifferent metaphysic” seems to me to be starting off in the right direction!

July 15, 2016 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory, Metaphysics, Neo-Confucianism | no comments

CFP: Population and Ethics

Call for Papers: The Cumberland Lodge Colloquium (Monday 26th September 2016) on “Population and Ethics: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Birth and Death” seeks paper proposals; the organizers are particularly interested in incorporating non-Western perspectives. See here for more details. The deadline to submit is July 3, 2016.

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Call for Papers (CFP), Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory | no comments

Harvard Lecture: Ethics and Professions in Asia

Ethics and the Professions – Good Practitioners in a Rising Asia

Friday, October 16, 2015, 12:15pm

S153, 1st Floor, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA

Kenneth Winston, Visiting Scholar, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School

Many Asian countries are in transition, as they struggle to meet the demands of a global world.  This struggle is not only economic and political; it is moral.  Simply put, it is a struggle to preserve what one believes to be of value in one’s own culture or tradition while responding to new circumstances and participating in new relationships.  Thus, it often involves a hybrid of traditional beliefs and transplanted values, which makes Asian countries fascinating sites for the study of political and ethical development.  In particular, emerging democratic aspirations and increasing commitment to standards of professionalism are constituent elements of the new moral environment in Asia.  As a result, the ethical challenges faced by practitioners have a special urgency and demand close attention.  This talk presents a general framework for thinking about these challenges, focusing on the kinds of moral competence professionals require in working for the good of others.

October 2, 2015 Posted by | China, Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Comparative Political Theory, Ethical Theory, Lecture | one comment

Review of new book in Comparative Ethics

I was intrigued by Brandon Warmke’s recent review in NDPR of Judith Andre’s book Worldly Virtue: Moral Ideals and Contemporary Life. Apparently Andre makes considerable (and self-aware) use of Buddhist ideas as she argues that “the realities of our contemporary world require us both to re-interpret traditional virtues and to recognize new ones altogether.” Take a look!

August 12, 2015 Posted by | Buddhism, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory, Virtue | no comments

Hansen’s MOOC on edX

Chad Hansen has created a MOOC on edX called “Humanity and Nature in Chinese Thought,” available here. Here is some copy from the course description:

Think along with Classical Chinese masters as they explore and debate how and where we can find ethical guidance in nature.

We make ethical or behaviour guiding right / wrong judgments all the time but have you ever wondered where Ethics comes from, what it is about and why it is important? This course provides an introduction to traditional Chinese ethical thought and focuses on the pervasive contrast in the way Chinese and Westerners think about ethical guidance or guidance concerning what is right and what is wrong, good or bad.  Traditional Western orthodoxy uses the metaphor of a law – in its most familiar popular form, the command of a supernatural being backed by a threat of eternal punishment or reward – to explain ethical guidance. The Classical Chinese philosophers by contrast were all naturalists. They talked about ethical guidance using a path metaphor – a natural dào…

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Courses, Ethical Theory, Resources | no comments

Huang’s Why Be Moral? is Published

I am excited to note the publication of Yong HUANG’s Why Be Moral? Learning from the Neo-Confucian Cheng Brothers, the fruit of many years of research. The SUNY Press site is here, and Amazon is here. Here is the editorial description:

Yong Huang presents a new way of doing comparative philosophy as he demonstrates the resources for contemporary ethics offered by the Cheng brothers, Cheng Hao (1032–1085) and Cheng Yi (1033–1107), canonical neo-Confucian philosophers. Huang departs from the standard method of Chinese/Western comparison, which tends to interest those already interested in Chinese philosophy. While Western-oriented scholars may be excited to learn about Chinese philosophers who have said things similar to what they or their favored philosophers have to say, they hardly find anything philosophically new from such comparative work. Instead of comparing and contrasting philosophers, each chapter of this book discusses a significant topic in Western moral philosophy, examines the representative views on this topic in the Western tradition, identifies their respective difficulties, and discusses how the Cheng brothers have better things to say on the subject. Topics discussed include why one should be moral, how weakness of will is not possible, whether virtue ethics is self-centered, in what sense the political is also personal, how a moral theory can be of an antitheoretical nature, and whether moral metaphysics is still possible in this postmodern and postmetaphysical age.

Versions of some of the chapters have been published or presented at conferences over the years, so Huang’s general approach is well-known. Now that we have a full, book-length presentation, there is sure to be renewed attention paid to Huang’s important arguments as they concern ethics, the goals and methodology of comparative philosophy, and the interpretation of the Cheng brothers. Discussion welcome!

November 29, 2014 Posted by | Books of Interest, Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory, Neo-Confucianism | one comment

Open Access to Harris on Aristotle and Confucius on Shame

With each published issue of Dao, we choose one article for discussion here on Warp, Weft, and Way, and Dao‘s publisher gives everyone free access to the article for a year. The next article to get this treatment is “Aristotle and Confucius on the Socioeconomics of Shame” by Thorian Harris. The article can be accessed here. Howard Curzer of Texas Tech is going to start off the discussion in a couple weeks with a précis; in the meantime, we encourage you to download and read the article, and then join in the discussion when it begins.

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Confucius, Dao Article Discussion, Ethical Theory | no comments

Loy on inclusive care and partial virtue

As Steve and Manyul announced last month, with each new issue of Dao the blog will host a discussion of one of the issue’s articles, and the journal will make that article freely available online. Here I’m kicking off the series with a discussion of Loy Hui-chieh’s “On the Argument for Jian’ai” (Dao 12.4, available here).

Loy’s article treats the Mohists’ main argument for inclusive care (jiān ài 兼愛), focusing on the role played in it by appeals to virtues such as filial piety that are inevitably partial. Fundamental to his treatment is the view (which I share) that inclusive care did not require absolute impartiality—it did not imply that we have equal obligations to all people, or that we should treat them the same, or feel the same about them. Loy thus undermines one common sort or argument against the Mohists, that inclusive care is incompatible with the partial virtues and is therefore morally dubious. However, this does not mean that the Mohists’ own appeals to the partial virtues succeed, and Loy goes on to argue that they do not. I’ll sketch Loy’s argument, and then make critical comments on two points.

Continue reading “Loy on inclusive care and partial virtue”

January 5, 2014 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Dao Article Discussion, Ethical Theory, Filial piety, Mohism, Politics | 18 comments

CFP: Living Ethically in the Global World

March 27-29, 2014 University of Alaska, Anchorage (UAA) Philosophy Department and UAA Ethics Center are jointly hosting a conference and convocation of undergraduates, graduate students and faculty. We will gather around the theme “Living Ethically in the Global World.” Intentionally the broad theme allows for diverse papers engaging ethics and topics requiring ethical analysis. Rogers Ames will offer the keynote address on Confucian Role Ethics.

We are particularly hopeful that there will be broad participation from students and faculty with interest and expertise in non-Western perspectives.  We are eager to have participants from many countries and states.

Continue reading “CFP: Living Ethically in the Global World”

October 20, 2013 Posted by | Call for Papers (CFP), Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Conference, Ethical Theory | no comments

Is it Possible to be Too Yi 義?

Passage 3B10 in the Mengzi stood out during my last read through the text. In 3B10 Mengzi tells the story of Chen Zhongzi, who in seeking purity (lian 廉) refused to eat his mother’s food or live in his brother’s house (believing that his brother had not rightly [buyi 不義] attained his salary and home). Mengzi’s critique of Chen Zhongzi is that “only an earthworm could fill out [the values] he holds to” 蚓而後充其操, which I take to mean that living in the human world (i.e., a world of complex relationships) entails living a life where one cannot live to such a degree of purity and at the same time realize other (often more important) values. Mengzi seems to have similar sentiments about figures such as Bo Yi in passage 5B1. While he praises Bo Yi (and Chen Zhongzi in 3B10), being too lian 廉 or qing 清 is problematic for Mengzi. Continue reading “Is it Possible to be Too Yi 義?”

July 18, 2013 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Ethical Theory, Mencius | 21 comments

ToC: Asian Philosophy 23.3

A new issue of Asian Philosophy 23.3 (2013) has been published. Five out of the six papers are on Chinese Philosophy:

Moral Emotions, Awareness, and Spiritual Freedom in the Thought of Zhu Xi (1130–1200)
Kai Marchal

Dōgen and Wittgenstein: Transcending Language through Ethical Practice
Laura Specker Sullivan

Han Fei’s Enlightened Ruler
Alejandro Bárcenas

Han Fei, De, Welfare
Henrique Schneider

Clearing Up Obstructions: An Image Schema Approach to the Concept of ‘Datong’  in Chapter 6 of the Zhuangzi
C. Lynne Hong

Relation-Centred Ethics in Confucius and Aquinas
Qi Zhao

July 1, 2013 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Confucius, Ethical Theory, Legalism, Tables of Contents, Zhu Xi, Zhuangzi | no comments

New Book: Ethics Unbound: Chinese and Western Perspectives on Morality

ethics-unboundEthics Unbound: Chinese and Western Perspectives on Morality, by Katrin Froese

Chinese University Press
May 2013‧229 x 152 mm‧264 pages
ISBN 978-962-996-496-2‧Hardcover‧US$49

About the Book
This book closely examines texts from Chinese and Western traditions that hold up ethics as the inviolable ground of human existence, as well as those that regard ethics with suspicion. The negative notion of morality contends that because ethics cannot be divorced from questions of belonging and identity, there is a danger that it can be nudged into the domain of the unethical, since ethical virtues can become properties to be possessed with which the recognition of others is solicited. Ethics thus fosters the very egoism it hopes to transcend, and risks excluding the unfamiliar and the stranger. The author argues inspirationally that the unethical underbelly of ethics must be recognized in order to ensure that it remains vibrant.

About the Author
KATRIN FROESE is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Calgary. She is the author of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Daoist Thought: Crossing Paths In-Between (2006) and Rousseau and Nietzsche: Toward an Aesthetic Morality (2002).

Continue reading “New Book: Ethics Unbound: Chinese and Western Perspectives on Morality”

June 19, 2013 Posted by | Books of Interest, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory | no comments

New Book: Springer, Communicating Moral Concern

cmc My Wesleyan University colleague Elise Springer’s new book, Communicating Moral Concern: An Ethics of Critical Responsiveness (MIT Press, 2013) has just been published, and I’d like to recommend it to all blog readers with interests in comparative ethics, especially if you are tempted by the idea that the job of moral philosophers — and indeed, our jobs as moral agents — are not exhausted by making determinations of what the “right action” is. Her view is that such “verdicts” have at most a small place in our daily efforts to live good lives, and this rich and fascinating book explores the rest of the terrain. In the words of one of my teachers:

“This book is simply spectacular. I am stunned by its originality, intellectual sophistication, philosophical maturity, and depth of vision. I learned new things from virtually every page. Philosophers have a huge bias in favor of examining already articulated judgments, and thereby ignore the incredibly difficult and important work of developing an articulation of what is the matter. Elise Springer persuasively argues that this work deserves sustained attention in its own right, and offers new conceptual tools for making sense of what we are doing at that stage.” — Elizabeth Anderson, John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan

As if that wasn’t enough, in a few places Elise explicitly engages with Confucian ideas, and in general is very open to a broadly global scope of philosophical endeavor. I myself find a great deal of continuity between her work and current work at the nexus of Confucianism, moral psychology, moral education/cultivation, and virtue ethics, though I also find some of her key ideas very challenging to certain Confucian pieties. Finally, while it is only available in hardcover right now, at Amazon the price is only a little over US$30.00 :-).

June 18, 2013 Posted by | Books of Interest, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology | one comment

Call for Commentators-ACPA at APA Eastern 2013


We still need commentators, and please let me know if you are interested.  Dr. Kim’s and Mr. Lu’s papers already have commentators (and there are three other commentators who are not set on any particular paper yet).  Thanks!

– Tongdong Bai (baitongdong@gmail.com)

ACPA Group Meeting at the APA Eastern Convention
December 27-30, 2013, at the Marriott Waterfront, Baltimore


Session 1: Moral Cultivation and Moral Agency in Confucianism and Western Philosophy
1. Mental Blindness and Moral Rectitude: The jiebi chapter of the Xunzi

David Chai, University of Toronto, Canada, david.chai@utoronto.ca

Abstract: The idea of being figuratively blind is a well-used trope in early Confucian thought. Confucius referred to blindness of virtue while Mencius to blindness of the senses and speech. For Xunzi, blindness stems from a person having ‘two minds,’ that is, one’s mind is caught between two principles or goals of moral conduct. Xunzi’s solution, like Guanzi’s theory of ‘mental arts’ (xinshu 心術), was to engage in ‘singular concentration’ (jing 精). Through a close hermeneutic reading of chapter 21 of the Xunzi (jiebi 解蔽, “Removing Blindness”), this paper will examine Xunzi’s use of jing and how cultivating one’s mental essence by adhering to Dao can result in overcoming mental blindness. It will also look at one of the more interesting metaphors Xunzi uses, that of brightness (ming 明). Moral brightness is a quality every person should strive for in that it reflects the perfect virtue of Dao. For Xunzi, using ming to nurture jing is not enough to cure a person completely of their mental blindness however; they must endeavor to replicate the mind of Dao. How they do this is through studying the principle of men’s minds as Xunzi so clearly illustrates: “Sageliness consists in a comprehensive grasp of the natural relationships between men. True kingship consists in a comprehensive grasp of the regulations for government. A comprehensive grasp of both is sufficient to become the ridgepole for the world.” (Xunzi, 21.9)

Continue reading “Call for Commentators-ACPA at APA Eastern 2013”

May 20, 2013 Posted by | Comparative philosophy, Conference, Confucianism, Ethical Theory | no comments

Against Empathy

The following article in this week’s New Yorker by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has been circulating in social networks:

The Baby in the Well: The Case Against Empathy

Despite what many of us on this blog might initially wonder, the title of the paper does not refer to Mencius’s famous thought experiment.  (Instead, it refers to the famous case of an actual child in a well that led to a worldwide media circus in the 1980s.)  Nonetheless, the article may be of interest to those of us working in Confucian ethics and moral psychology.

Continue reading “Against Empathy”

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Emotions, Ethical Theory, Mencius, Moral Psychology | 3 comments

Moral Exemplars and Moral Connoisseurs

A number of scholars in our field have suggested that the model of connoisseurship is helpful in understanding Confucian moral education and the nature of the Confucian moral exemplar (the junzi or sage). Eric Hutton’s “Moral Connoisseurship in the Mengzi” (in Liu and Ivanhoe, eds., Essays on the Moral Philosophy of Mengzi, 2002) is a classic essay; more recently, Hagop Sarkissian (“Confucius and the Effortless Life of Virtue,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 27:1 [2010]) and P.J. Ivanhoe (“McDowell, WANG Yangming, and Mengzi’s Contributions to Understanding Moral Perception,” Dao [2011]) have also developed related ideas.

I’m going to excerpt here a bit from an essay of mine that is currently unpublished, part of a volume that will eventually wend its way through the review process and see the light of day. My concern in the essay is to further develop some comparisons between Neo-Confucians and contemporary psychological literature that I began in Sagehood and continued in “A Productive Dialogue? Contemporary Moral Education and Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucian Ethics,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy (2011). In particular, I refine the idea of “active moral perception” introduced in Sagehood, and as part of that process, find myself arguing against the idea that moral exemplars are best understood as people who have honed their sensitivities to moral reasons or moral properties in a connoisseur-like way. My target here is not, at least explicitly, the interpretations of Kongzi and Menzi suggested in the essays cited above, but rather to argue that a common-sense idea (supported by recent psychological research) of what moral exemplars are like, and what they do, actually fits very well with key elements of Wang Yangming’s picture. I’d love feedback!

Continue reading “Moral Exemplars and Moral Connoisseurs”

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Confucianism, Ethical Theory, Neo-Confucianism, Psychology | 13 comments

Virtue Ethics and Confucianism Book Inches Toward Publication


I am happy to report that the book that Michael Slote and I have been editing, Virtue Ethics and Confucianism, will see the light of day before too many more months pass. Routledge now has a webpage for the book which includes its cover, table of contents, and so on, and it can even be pre-ordered. For those of you who are neither independently wealthy nor buyers for academic libraries (i.e., virtually anyone reading this), please be assured that a more reasonably-priced paperback edition will be forthcoming in a couple more years.


March 26, 2013 Posted by | Books of Interest, Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Confucianism, Ethical Theory, Virtue | 3 comments

Columbia Society for Comparative Philosophy lecture on Confucian ethics March 22 @5:30pm


Welcomes ANDREW LAMBERT,  Department of Philosophy, Wester New England University

With responses from Warren Frisina, Dean of Honors College, Associate Professor of Religion, Hofstra University

Please join us at Columbia University Department of Religion on March 22, 2013 at 5:30pm for his lecture entitled

A Confucian Account of Ethical Obligation?

ABSTRACT: The Confucian doctrine of the five cardinal relationships is often taken as a defining feature of the Confucian tradition, with its emphasis on family life and relationships. However, objections arising from more modern ethical ideals threaten to undermine the doctrine, or at least render it irrelevant to contemporary ethics. I present three such objections.

In seeking to deflect the objections, I suggest a different way of understanding the purpose and effects of the five relationships doctrine. Instead of seeing the doctrine as a constellation of concrete practical norms and duties pertaining to individuals occupying certain social roles and positions, I suggest we understand the five relationships doctrine as a kind of training device, which cultivates a certain kind of personal sensibility. This is a sense of obligation to engage with and find a basis for familiarity with those people encountered in the subject’s local social world.

I argue that when understood in this way, the discourse of the five cardinal relationships is not subject to the three common objections noted above, and presents a distinctive form of ethical obligation.

I finish by locating this account of ethical obligation within a larger moral vision, thereby suggesting this is a genuine form of ethical obligation rather than mere etiquette or psychological conditioning.

Time: 5:30-7:30 pm
Place: Rm. 101 in the Department of Religion 80 Claremont Avenue


March 16, 2013 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Ethical Theory, Lecture | one comment

Columbia Lecture on Buddhist Metaphysics and Ethics

UPDATE: Today’s Columbia Seminar on Comparative Philosophy meeting, with Jonathan C. Gold and Robert Wright, is CANCELLED due to blizzard forecasts in New York City.  We are planning to reschedule for NEXT Friday, February 15.  Full details to follow.


Welcomes, JONATHAN C. GOLD (Princeton University)

Please join us at Columbia University’ Department of Religion on February 8, 2013 at 5:30 for his lecture entitled,

Accepting the Conditions: “The Ethical Implications of Vasubandhu’s Buddhist Causal Theory”

Continue reading “Columbia Lecture on Buddhist Metaphysics and Ethics”

February 5, 2013 Posted by | Buddhism, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory, Indian Philosophy | 5 comments

The Daoist Nazi Problem

I am pleased to present a guest-post from Donald Sturgeon. Donald is a PhD candidate in philosophy at HKU and founder, editor, programmer, and general man-behind-the-curtain of the Chinese Text Project (ctext.org), an extremely useful online etext database with which many blog readers are familiar, I’m sure. Donald reports that according to Google Analytics, over the last 30 days the site has exceeded 1 million page views and 100,000 unique visitors! Please address all comments to Donald.

The Daoist Nazi Problem

Donald Sturgeon

Suppose there is a person, or a group of people, committed to practicing what we can for convenience call a “Nazi Dao”: a Dao that, though practically successful from the perspective of its followers, involves commitment to some abhorrent practices that all “right-minded people” would condemn as exemplary immoral acts that should be universally condemned – “killing innocent babies for fun”, for example.

What can a Zhuangist – someone committed to a relativist position about differing practices and the nature of their justification, questioning of conventionally accepted values, and skeptical about certain kinds of knowledge – say about such a Dao? Can he condemn it? Is it a “bad” Dao, and if so in what sense? Or is it just as good a Dao as any other? Continue reading “The Daoist Nazi Problem”

October 14, 2012 Posted by | Daoism, Ethical Theory, Zhuangzi | 17 comments

ISCP at AAR Conference in Chicago (11/17/2012)

The International Society for Chinese Philosophy has an Ethics and Chinese Thought panel session at the American Academy of Religion meetings in Chicago. From Eric Nelson (U. Mass. Lowell):

The International Society for Chinese Philosophy panel at the American Academy of Religion is scheduled for November 17th, Saturday from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM in the South Building, Room S106b at the McCormick Place Convention Center, Chicago, IL
International Society for Chinese Philosophy
Theme: Ethics and Chinese Thought
Saturday, 1:00 PM–4:00 PM
Chair: Michael Paradiso-Michau (North Central College)

  1. Jinli He (Trinity University), Qing Ethics: An Alternative Thinking?
  2. Rafal Banka (Jagiellonian University), Philosophy of Action in Confucian Ethics
  3. Leah Kalmanson (Drake University), Now I Get It!: Thinking Slowly about Sudden Enlightenment for Ethics Today
  4. Eric S. Nelson (University of Massachusetts, Lowell), Killing the Buddha: Chan Buddhism and Antinomian Ethics

October 2, 2012 Posted by | Buddhism, Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Conference, Confucianism, Ethical Theory | no comments

Role ethics as virtue ethics?

In case you are not tired of thinking about the issues raised by Henry Rosemont’s and Roger Ames’s defense of “role ethics,” I’d like to offer one more perspective on the matter. Rosemont and Ames see Confucian role ethics as a full-scale replacement to the current moral theories on offer, which in their writings seem to be consequentialism, Kantian deontology, and Aristotelian virtue ethics. As Bill Haines suggested in a comment to a previous post on this subject, some readers of Aristotle find the version of Aristotle that is rejected by Rosemont and Ames to be a caricature, but I am going to set that issue to the side and look at the possible value of recasting the ideas and values driving Confucian role ethics as a version of a broad notion of virtue ethics. Continue reading “Role ethics as virtue ethics?”

March 7, 2012 Posted by | Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory, Virtue | 23 comments

Role Ethics and Criticism

In a previous post, I sketched the two major premises on which Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont rely in their argument that we should attribute “Confucian role ethics” to the Analects and other early Confucian texts. Here, I’d like to consider one potential objection to Confucian role ethics, both as a plausible moral theory in its own right, and as a theory that fits with the texts. The Analects clearly sees the need for critical evaluation of the ways that roles are inhabited by particular people. Does “Confucian role ethics” provide adequate critical purchase for such assessment? Continue reading “Role Ethics and Criticism”

February 25, 2012 Posted by | Comparative philosophy, Confucianism, Ethical Theory | 20 comments

Profile of Erin Cline and her New Book Project

There is a nice profile of Erin Cline and her new book project, “Moral Cultivation and the Family in Early Chinese Philosophy,” on the Georgetown University website. Congratulations, Erin!

December 4, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Ethical Theory, Filial piety | 3 comments

The Heart of Deference

Section 2A/6 of the Mencius tells us that the heart of deference (辭讓) is the starting point of ritual. I’ll try to convince you that this is a puzzling claim, and then suggest a solution to the puzzle.

The puzzle is that ritual obviously mobilises motives other than deference, and calls for behaviour that is not simply deferential. Think of the way that grief takes on ritualised shape in funerals: this is not just an extension of deference. So, why did it make sense to the author or authors of Mencius 2A/6 to say that deference is the starting-point of ritual?

Continue reading “The Heart of Deference”

May 23, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Ethical Theory, Human nature, Mencius, Psychology | 78 comments

Morality vs. Prudence in Confucianism?

Chapter 5 of my Sagehood book is concerned in various ways with the scope of ethics. On p. 92, I articulate some of my conclusions as follows:

…There is no morality-versus-prudence distinction. Instead, everything matters. The style and form with which one acts are important, though not in a way that can be detached from other aspects of the situations in which we find ourselves. There is, to be sure, a great emphasis on avoiding selfishness. But when everything matters, we are included: it is appropriate that we matter to ourselves, though we must be careful that we do not become so focused on our own immediate concerns that we view things in a skewed way.

In some recent discussions with colleagues, my claim that there is no morality-versus-prudence distinction (in either Neo-Confucianism or classical Confucianism, though the details and evidence will differ somewhat between the two cases) has met with some resistance. Continue reading “Morality vs. Prudence in Confucianism?”

February 10, 2011 Posted by | Comparative philosophy, Confucianism, Ethical Theory, Feng Youlan, Mou Zongsan | 24 comments

Ability and cultivation in Mencius 2A/6

This is part of an argument I’ve been developing for an embarrassingly long time. I gave it most recently at the APA in Boston last week. I’m focusing here on a point in my talk that Steve Angle took issue with in his comments.

Section 2A/6 of the Mencius famously tells us that anyone, or at any rate any person, would feel alarm and compassion at the sight of an infant about to fall into a well, and that this reaction amounts to a heart of compassion that we can “expand and fill out,” thereby becoming benevolent. One way to read this is as a call for self-cultivation: it’s saying, more or less, that each person can become benevolent by cultivating his or her heart of compassion so that gradually, over time, it develops into full benevolence. You may recognise this sort of reading, since it’s ubiquitous in the English-language Mencius scholarship. It’s also wrong.

Continue reading “Ability and cultivation in Mencius 2A/6”

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Ethical Theory, Mencius | 44 comments


This is my first attempt to contribute something to this blog–or any blog for that matter. Sorry, it’s nothing original, just a recycled interview from “religion dispatches”.

Ten Questions for Hans-Georg Moeller on The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality
(Columbia University Press, 2009)

What inspired you to write The Moral Fool? What sparked your interest?

The book was written as result of a certain personal uneasiness about the increasing prevalence of moral communication in contemporary society. I found that not only the obvious moral hypocrisy often contained in public statements by, for instance, politicians, preachers, or academics, bothered me, but more generally, the undeserved prestige of ethical language. It seems to me that ethical communication has almost reached a pathological level in our society, bringing about, in Hegel’s words, a certain “frenzy of self-conceit.”

The book is aimed at making such pathologies visible—for instance in the mass media, in politics, in warfare, and in legal procedures, but also on a personal level, when people are urged to practice and experience a “morality of anger.”

What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

Morality (moral communication and moral thought) is not in itself “good.” And: Dare to take ethics not so seriously.

Is there anything you had to leave out?

The book is very much focused on moral pathologies in North America. I think that moral pathologies in other regions (Germany, China, for instance) show quite different symptoms. Maybe one time there will be a catalogue of the various forms of moral pathologies in different places and at different times. Continue reading “QandA”

December 15, 2009 Posted by | Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory | 27 comments

Happiness East and West Conference Abstracts

I’m headed to Hong Kong tomorrow for the Happiness East and West Conference at HKU. It looks like I’ll come back with some interesting things to discuss on the blog. I thought some of you might be interested in seeing the titles and abstracts of the papers that will be presented there. So, here they are… Continue reading “Happiness East and West Conference Abstracts”

December 7, 2009 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Conference, Ethical Theory | one comment

Xunzi and the Aesthetic-Moral Value Fusion

So, among other things, I’m working on a longish paper on aesthetic value and its fusion in early China with what we would consider to be moral value.  There are portions of this I’ll be presenting in Hong Kong next week (“Aesthetic Pleasure as Early Confucian Happiness”) and at the end of March at the Pacific APA meeting in San Francisco (“Gentlemen Prefer Bronze: Aesthetic Sensibility as Moral Sense in the Analects“). This is part of my discussion on Xunzi (which I will not be presenting anywhere), that aims for an aesthetic-value consequentialism reading:

What ties together much of Xunzi’s work is his emphasis on the transformative effects of education and self-cultivation, largely through the poetry, music, and rituals of Confucian life, incorporating traditional texts, forms, and activities. This is the backbone of Xunzi’s thought. In education and self-cultivation, it is the refined and noble quality of a person’s demeanor, inner psychological state, and activity that justifies the program of education and regimen of self-cultivation. The knowledge contained in the Zhou-derived rituals, music, odes, historical documents and records, according to Xunzi, enters the heart, disperses throughout the body, and is manifested both in activity and in rest (Xunzi 1). Continue reading “Xunzi and the Aesthetic-Moral Value Fusion”

November 30, 2009 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Ethical Theory, Xunzi | 7 comments

Special Relationships, Duties and Obligations

Following up on some things we discussed about filial piety on a previous post, I’ve had some thoughts about the nature of family relationships and their moral relevance, particularly with respect to filial piety, but with some hopes for expanding the thoughts more systematically to other aspects.

The Confucian ideal seems to be that the duties and obligations deriving from family bonds are central, in at least two ways:

1) The duties and obligations deriving from family bonds are overriding — they override any duties or obligations that derive from other relations, be they standing relations (subject and ruler, ruler and minister, subject and subject, etc.), or incidental ones based on circumstances (sheep-thief and sheep-owner, chariot-driver and someone run over by chariot-driver, etc.).

2) The duties and obligations deriving from family bonds are paradigmatic — they provide the paradigm, or model, for thinking about what our other duties or obligations are like and how we should think about them. So, for example, the ruler should think about his relationship to his ministers or to his subjects in ways that are modeled on the parent-child relationship.

That represents, I think, a common portrayal of the Confucian view. The questions I have are about how such a view might be justified. There are so-called “special relationships” that some contemporary moral theorists like to talk about, that are based on more or less standing relationships we find ourselves in, sometimes not entirely out of choices that we may have made. But these relationships can involve important moral aspects like trust and deep emotional bonds based on instinctive and cultivated care. The most obvious relationship like this is the parent-child relationship. But in that relationship, it’s always seemed to me like there’s an important asymmetry. As parents, we bring children into the world and it is most often out of some choice or other that we made. But of course the children had no such choice (that’s not the asymmetry I’m interested in) and for many years of their lives, they are in most ways “at our mercy” — they tacitly trust us to take care of them and to prepare them for a relatively happy adult life. Most parents love their children and so the point about trust might seem to without saying, but that’s not always the case and even loving parents don’t always feel particularly fond of their children. So, care is something that we owe to our children, as Kant (through Barbara Herman, among others) might say, even when we don’t on occasion feel like caring for them.

The moral asymmetry, I think, is when we look at the relationship from the side of the children. What is it that they owe to us? (Or, more pressing for many of us, what do we owe our parents?). I’m not so sure how to answer that. One way to characterize the Confucian view is that children owe their parents obedience, allegiance/loyalty, and gratitude — as I suggested about Analects 13.18 in the aforementioned post. Continue reading “Special Relationships, Duties and Obligations”

July 8, 2009 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Confucianism, Confucius, Ethical Theory | 20 comments