Abstract

Whereas Western moral philosophy has mainly accounted for recurrent failed or irrational actions through the concept of weakness of will, many early Chinese texts on self-cultivation, notably the Zhuangzi, stand for a philosophical position that explains our frustrations and failures as an “excess of the will.” Leaving aside external factors such as accidents or mistakes, this essay explores the sources of thwarted plans and frustrated expectations that are due to factors internal to the individual—more precisely, to the nature of intentional conscience. Such a view was generally inadmissible in Western moral philosophy, which revolves around the paradigm of a causal agent endowed with a ‘muscular ethics’ for which all that is desired, and indeed all that is achieved, may only be a direct effect of the will. In striking contrast to this orientation, the Zhuangzi presents a variety of situations in which things do not happen as planned because we were too aware of the plan that guided us. Here, I will use Jon Elster’s concept of by-product states in order to explore this contrast between two contending models of action that, far from being culturally rooted, express an inner criticism in both traditions, European and Chinese.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 440-466
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-25
Open Access
No
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