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Taking Confucian Ethics Seriously

Contemporary Theories and Applications

Kam-por Yu, Julia Tao, Philip J. Ivanhoe

Publication Year: 2010

A consideration of Confucian ethics as a living ethical tradition with contemporary relevance. This thought-provoking work presents Confucianism as a living ethical tradition with contemporary relevance. While acknowledged as one of the world’s most influential philosophies, Confucianism’s significance is too often consigned to a historical or solely East Asian context. Discussing both the strengths and weaknesses of Confucian ethics, the volume’s contributors reflect on what this tradition offers that we cannot readily learn from other systems of ethics. Developing Confucian ethical ideas within a contemporary context, this work discusses the nature of virtue, the distinction between public and private, the value of spontaneity, the place of sympathy in moral judgment, what it means to be humane, how to handle competing values, and the relationship between trust and democracy. For all those concerned with ethics, this book offers both new perspectives and resources for the ongoing consideration of how we should live.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

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p. vii-vii

The editors would like to express our sincere gratitude to several organizations and individuals who contributed to the success of this volume. The Governance in Asia Research Centre (GARC) of City University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sponsored the initial conference that served as the source of several of the papers in this volume. GARC generously...

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Introduction: Why Take Confucian Ethics Seriously?

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pp. 1-11

Many—though surely not all—people who have lived in Confucian societies have taken Confucian ethics seriously for hundreds of generations, but why should one study Confucian ethics today? One could do so in order to learn more about an ancient and unfamiliar school of thought or to understand or deepen one’s understanding of some aspects of East Asian cultures. To be sure...

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Chapter 1: What It Means to Take Chinese Ethics Seriously

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pp. 22-35

When in 238 bce his “guests” (ke 客) had compiled the Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏 春秋 (Master Lü’s Spring and autumn annals), a work “completely covering all topics of heaven and earth, of the myriad things, and of ancient and present times,” Lü Buwei, the chancellor of Qin, displayed the work at the market gate of Xianyang, hung one thousand pieces of gold over it, and promised the money to any one of the wandering scholars from the other states or any one...

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Chapter 2: The Handling of Multiple Values in Confucian Ethics

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pp. 27-51

In this chapter, I present a line of thinking in Confucian ethics that recognizes the existence of multiple values, sees the value of preserving and promoting competing values, and proposes a way to accommodate multiple values. According to this line of thinking, there is more to ethical thinking than the distinction between good and bad or right and wrong. There is not just one good (shan 善) but many goods, and one good may not be reduced to another...

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Chapter 3: Humanity or Benevolence?: The Interpretation of Confucian Ren and Its Modern Implications

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pp. 53-72

If we had the fortune of inviting a sage of the Warring States period (481–256 bce), say, Mengzi, to visit China today, he would find the landscape transformed beyond recognition. Yet to his surprise, he would also find many problems familiar to his distant age. Despite rapid economic development over the past three decades, China, like many developing nations...

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Chapter 4: East Asian Conceptions of the Public and Private Realms

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pp. 73-97

Mengzi 7A35 records the following dialogue between Mengzi (371–289? bce) and Tao Ying 桃應...

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Chapter 5: Trust Within Democracy: A Reconstructed Confucian Perspective

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pp. 99-122

In this chapter, I examine the question of the relation between trust and democracy in the governance of modern society. In particular, I focus on one specific question: Is trust necessary for democratic governance? When Kongzi (Confucius) was asked about government by his disciple Zigong more than two thousand years ago, he said that three things are needed for government...

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Chapter 6: A Defense of Ren-Based Interpretation of Early Confucian Ethics

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pp. 123-143

Virtue ethics, especially that of the Aristotelian strain, has been described as a type of “agent-centered” in contrast to “act-centered” moral theory. But as contemporary virtue ethics matures and differentiates, a finer distinction becomes necessary.1 According to Michael Slote, virtue ethical approaches are to be divided into three categories: agent-focused, agent-prior, and agent-based...

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Chapter 7: Is Sympathy Naive?: Dai Zhen on the Use of Shu to Track Well-Being

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pp. 145-162

The mid-Qing philosopher Dai Zhen 戴震 (1724–1777) is famous for his criticisms of orthodox Neo-Confucianism, especially of the Cheng-Zhu 程朱 School that had, by his time, prevailed over intellectual life and state institutions for several centuries.1 The heart of his critique rests on a controversial series of claims about the Confucian emotional attitude of sympathetic understanding...

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Chapter 8: The Nature of the Virtues in Light of the Early Confucian Tradition

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pp. 163-182

In this chapter, I take a prominent and plausible conception of virtues from the Western philosophical tradition, apply it to some early Confucian texts, and see where it succeeds and fails. In this way, I show how this conception of virtues needs to be revised.1 To some, it may seem strange to take Western concepts of virtue and see how they hold up in light of the early Confucian...

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Chapter 9: The Values of Spontaneity

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pp. 182-207

There is a widespread intuition that acts displaying “spontaneity” possess value at least in part by having this quality. Spontaneity may be taken as the sole or primary source of an action’s value or it may be thought to be a reason to further value an action that is considered good for other reasons as well, for example, because it realizes some independent worthwhile end. Spontaneous ...


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pp. 209-211


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pp. 213-225

E-ISBN-13: 9781438433165
E-ISBN-10: 1438433166
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438433158
Print-ISBN-10: 1438433158

Page Count: 233
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1