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Compassion and Moral Guidance

Steve Bein

Publication Year: 2013

Compassion is a word we use frequently but rarely precisely. One reason we lack a philosophically precise understanding of compassion is that moral philosophers today give it virtually no attention. Indeed, in the predominant ethical traditions of the West (deontology, consequentialism, virtue ethics), compassion tends to be either passed over without remark or explicitly dismissed as irrelevant. And yet in the predominant ethical traditions of Asia, compassion is centrally important: All else revolves around it. This is clearly the case in Buddhist ethics, and compassion plays a similarly indispensable role in Confucian and Daoist ethics.

In Compassion and Moral Guidance, Steve Bein seeks to explain why compassion plays such a substantial role in the moral philosophies of East Asia and an insignificant one in those of Europe and the West. The book opens with detailed surveys of compassion’s position in the philosophical works of both traditions. The surveys culminate in an analysis of the conceptions of self and why the differences between these conceptions serve either to celebrate or marginalize the importance of compassion.

Bein moves on to develop a model for the ethics of compassion, including a chapter on applied ethics seen from the perspective of the ethics of compassion. The result is a new approach to ethics, one that addresses the Rawlsian and Kantian concern for fairness, the utilitarian concern for satisfactory consequences, and the concern in care ethics for the proper treatment of marginalized groups. Bein argues that compassion’s capacity to address all of these makes it a primary tool for ethical decision-making.

3 illus.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy Monographs

Cover, Title Page, and Copyright

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pp. 1-7


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pp. 8-9

Abbreviations of Works Cited

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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xvii

“Compassion” is a word we use frequently in everyday conversation, but it is rarely used with anything close to philosophical precision. Indeed, one could go so far as to say we have lost the meaning of the word. As we generally use it, “compassion” appears in similar contexts with words such as “empathy,” “sympathy,” and...

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Chapter 1. What Is Compassion, and What Is It Not?

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pp. 1-49

In everyday conversation, compassion is generally thought of as a recognition or awareness of the existence of suffering in some other being, coupled with the desire to alleviate that suffering. This is not a philosophical definition, nor is it particularly instructive from an ethical point of view. Utilitarianism starts with...

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Chapter 2. What Is the Com- of Compassion?

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pp. 50-86

In searching for the com- or “with-ness” of compassion, a good place to start is with analyses of those philosophical traditions that question the discreteness of “self” and “other.” Numerous thinkers and texts reject this bifurcation either implicitly or explicitly, and among them I select those whose views may be synthesized...

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Chapter 3. Defining Compassion

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pp. 87-131

The epigraph points to several ideas that are fundamental to an understanding of compassion. First, it says we are bound. All of the models of compassion laid out in the previous chapter also suggest a bonding, one that is part and parcel of human existence. Second, it says that the nature of these bonds is dependent upon the...

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Chapter 4. Objections to an Ethic of Compassion

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pp. 132-150

There are potential objections that apply to any compassionate ethics, for there are objections to compassion itself as a source of moral guidance. The question of partiality has already appeared in previous chapters, and now it must be directly addressed. Compassion must ultimately reject impartiality, and if this is not...

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Chapter 5. Compassion in Action

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pp. 151-182

Perhaps compassion is like the Kantian good will — admirable in and of itself — but this will not satisfy the compassionate agent. Compassionate disposition demands compassionate praxis; it demands results. The same might be said of one with a Kantian good will — if I were such a one, surely I would be frustrated if I were wholly...


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pp. 183-205

Literature Cited

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pp. 207-217


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pp. 219-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837211
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836412

Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy Monographs
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OCLC Number: 859157615
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Compassion and Moral Guidance