Category Archives: Ethical Theory

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!

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.

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.

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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.

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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 →

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

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).

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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 :-).

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 (

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,

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)

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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.

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