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  • Ethics in Early China: An Anthology ed. by Chris Fraser, Dan Robins, and Timothy O'Leary
  • Judson Murray
Ethics in Early China: An Anthology. Edited by Chris Fraser, Dan Robins, and Timothy O'Leary. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011. Pp. vii + 312. Paper $30.00, ISBN 9789888028931.

Ethics in Early China: An Anthology is a major contribution to the philosophical study of early Chinese ethics and comparative ethics by a collection of some of the most distinguished scholars in these fields. This anthology honors Professor Chad Hansen's many and important contributions to the study of Chinese philosophy, but the work is not a festschrift per se. Instead of discussing the honoree's oeuvre in a collection of essays, these new, innovative, and outstanding writings engage, bear upon, develop, and contend with important themes in Hansen's work, including, for example, Hansen's provocative interpretations of the meanings of dao 道 and de 德 in early [End Page 442] Chinese sources, his analysis of the action-guiding function of language for the early Chinese, his requirements warranting moral tradition respect, and his critique of the Confucian ethical tradition and its arguments. Ethics in Early China, like Hansen's philosophical interests, is ambitious and wide-ranging in its scope, encompassing discussions relating to, inter alia, virtue ethics, normative ethics, consequentialism, ethical naturalism, moral motivation, and comparative ethics. Collectively, its essays also survey different techniques of moral cultivation employed by the early Chinese, such as verbal instruction, normative persuasion, rituals, music, poetry, athletics, model emulation, and material incentives and disincentives.

The work's diverse contents do, however, jointly pursue two specific objectives. The first is to provide philosophically nuanced and sophisticated analyses of dimensions of early Chinese ethical theory and practice that, in the contributors' opinions, heretofore have been "underexamined." The second objective is to underscore and explicate the distinctiveness of the Chinese ethical tradition, rather than allow it to be read through the lens of Western ethical assumptions, concepts and values, and philosophical theories. Overall, the volume succeeds in both respects.

To accomplish its goals the anthology consists of two divisions that proceed along different yet complementary courses. "Part One: New Readings" is comprised of seven essays that analyze noteworthy subjects and points of view in pre-imperial, early Chinese ethical thought. For example, Manyul Im examines consequentialist moral calculations present in Mencius' ethical reasoning. Franklin Perkins considers Mencius' defense of the early Ru 儒 (Classicist/Confucian) tradition against rival philosophical criticisms, specifically the "Mohist challenge." Chris Fraser explores the theme of moral motivation in Mohist ethical disputation and practice. Dan Robins explains what it meant for early Daoists to "go beyond skill" in a norm-governed way (dao) of doing something that afforded them an adaptive virtuosity in undertaking the activity. Lisa Raphals outlines techniques of self-cultivation aimed at "embodying virtue" to transform one's character.

The authors' analyses of these and other subjects in Part One seek both to correct incomplete or erroneous readings of them and to expand the reader's understanding of their import by providing novel philosophical interpretations. For instance, the partnership between Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont, Jr., has produced another persuasive reading of early Confucian ethical thought that challenges recent scholarly attempts to analyze it as a form of virtue ethics. Ames and Rosemont argue that early Confucianism is more accurately and best understood as a distinctive type of role ethics grounded in the different family relations that both defined the ancient Chinese and enabled them to realize genuine personhood and collective prosperity relationally. Ames and Rosemont deftly examine early Confucian sources, primarily the Analects, to elucidate this early Confucian ethical vision. The authors also build a formidable case for significant contrast between early Confucians and virtue ethicists by showing how Confucians and Aristotelians differed in their respective conceptions of community, rationality, and virtue—or, for early Confucians, "virtuing," that is, a kind of virtuosity that Confucians realize and express in lived social roles and relations with others. [End Page 443]

Jane Geaney's analysis of the oft-studied Confucian ethico-political technique of zhengming 正名 ("correct naming" or "rectifying names") reveals another important example of the performative ethical effects of discursive sound...