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Overcoming Our Evil

Human Nature and Spiritual Exercises in Xunzi and Augustine

Publication Year: 2006

Can people ever really change? Do they ever become more ethical, and if so, how? Overcoming Our Evil focuses on the way ethical and religious commitments are conceived and nurtured through the methodical practices that Pierre Hadot has called spiritual ex

Published by: Georgetown University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I am acutely aware of how much this book has gained from the labor and help of others, and thankful for all that I have learned in the process. Teachers and mentors awakened and refined many of the ideas and passions that animate this study. At Stanford, Lee Yearley first introduced me to the joys and drama of comparative ethics; ...

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Introduction: To Change One’s Life

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pp. xi-xviii

Does anyone ever really change?1 Religions tend to answer this question with an emphatic yes. And it does seem that religions can transform people: Some believers become selfless servants of the poor, or even suicide bombers. But how and why might this happen? Similar circumstances push people in quite different ways; ...

Source and Citation Formats

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pp. xix-xx

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A Note on Citations

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pp. xxi

Citations of Xunzi’s works are to D. C. Lau’s concordance (1996). All citations of this and the other Institute of Chinese Studies concordances will take the form chapter/page/line; so, for example, 19/97/9 would mean chapter 19, page 97, line 9. Lau’s concordance is based on the Sibu Congkan edition of the Xunzi, ...

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Chapter One Comparative Ethics

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pp. 1-26

If the term “religious ethics” is to be more than a catchall, a thoughtless expansion of Christian ethics to be as inclusive as possible, then the field of religious ethics needs thoughtful comparison of different “ethics” (in the plural). This comparison can and should go on both within and across religious traditions. ...

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Chapter Two Contexts for Interpretation

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pp. 27-55

I argued in chapter 1 that if one’s goal is to engage culturally distant thinkers precisely as thinkers, as theorists who have developed religious conceptions worthy of careful study, then the best comparative strategy is to interpret them with sensitivity, alert to the various contexts and traditions in which they moved and worked. ...

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Chapter Three Ugly Impulses and a Muddy Heart

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pp. 56-84

A few commentators have noted in passing the similarity between Xunzi’s apparent teaching that “human nature is evil” and Augustine’s notions of original sin. H. H. Dubs inaugurated this line of thought in a 1956 article, in which he argued tendentiously that “like Augustine, [Xunzi] saw that the only safe foundation ...

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Chapter Four Broken Images of the Divine

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pp. 85-121

Rather than providing a supposedly static summary, much of the best contemporary work on Augustine carefully traces the development of his thought, often correlating it to events in his life.1 One great virtue of this approach is that it maps the changes in his views over time, illuminating every contour and ridge ...

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Chapter Five Comparing Human “Natures”

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pp. 122-150

Bridge concepts aim to provoke accounts of widely separated figures in terms of a common set of topics that highlight particular points of similarity and difference. By creating more precise points of contact, the comparativist can provide the basis for an imaginary dialogue between the two positions thus articulated ...

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Chapter Six Artifice Is the Way

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pp. 151-196

In this chapter, I outline Xunzi’s understanding of human ethical and religious development. The first section sets the stage by considering Xunzi’s general conception of the Confucian Way. Here I explore and analyze his various evocative metaphors for personal formation, and the theories into which they are interwoven. ...

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Chapter Seven Crucifying and Resurrecting the Mind

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pp. 197-245

Augustine’s vast literary output encompasses so much, it is inevitable that a particular era’s fascinations bring certain aspects to the fore and leave others less widely known. At least since the Reformation, the intellectual anxiety provoked by Augustine’s doctrine of predestination has led to intensive critical scrutiny ...

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Chapter Eight Reformations: Spiritual Exercises in Comparative Perspective

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pp. 246-290

Augustine and Xunzi both aim ultimately at perfection, although how they conceive of such a state differs dramatically. They also focus on rather different issues as they chart the path toward this perfection, which reflect their distinctive worries about the gravest spiritual dangers. Examining their differing interests ...

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Chapter Nine Understanding and Neighborliness

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pp. 291-302

It should be clear by now that I am practicing a form of intellectual self-restraint in these pages, one with roots in the phenomenological tradition of religious studies.1 By deferring global judgments of truth or superiority in favor of one or the other figure (although not eschewing specific criticisms and evaluative choices), ...


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pp. 303-320


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pp. 321-330

E-ISBN-13: 9781589013841
E-ISBN-10: 1589013840
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589010949
Print-ISBN-10: 1589010949

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Good and evil.
  • Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo.
  • Xunzi, 340-245 B.C.
  • Conduct of life.
  • Ethics.
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