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  • "Why Be Moral?" and Other Matters:Reply to Liu, Tiwald, and Yu
  • Yong Huang (bio)

I would like to start by expressing my gratitude to Chenyang Li for proposing, organizing, and arranging the publication of this symposium discussion of my book, Why Be Moral? Learning from the Neo-Confucian Cheng Brothers. I would also like to thank Jeeloo Liu, Justin Tiwald, and Kam-por Yu for their serious engagements with my work with stimulating and inspiring comments. As they seem to me so persuasive, at the end of the day I would perhaps have to embrace a wholesale acceptance of their [End Page 295] constructive criticisms and abandon what I have said to the contrary in the book. In the following, however, I shall try my best to reply to some of the questions raised in their comments.

Why Be Moral?

All three commentators raise questions about my discussion of the question "why be moral," and Tiwald's comment is focused exclusively on this issue. The first question, raised by Yu, is about whether the joy in being moral is enough to motivate a person to be moral. On the one hand, he argues that I cannot claim that "there is joy in being moral." This is because the joys that come from immorality can be more numerous and diversified, and together they can outweigh the joy that is singularly the greatest. My reply is that, for the Cheng brothers, one ought to seek joy in being moral instead of joy in being immoral not because the former is greater or stronger in degree than the latter, even though it may indeed be the case. Instead, it is because moral joy is the right kind of joy in the sense that it is one characteristic of humans. It is in this context that I highlight the Cheng brothers' distinctions between superior humans and inferior humans and that between humans and animals (Huang 2014, pp. 25–26). On the other hand, Yu argues that it is not the case that "a moral person can always have a net joy in being moral, even if it is granted that alternatives other than what is moral will only bring greater pain." Clearly Yu has moral dilemmas in mind here in which one's action has mixed aspects: while bringing great benefit to some people, it also causes significant harm to others. Seeing the former, one feels joy, while seeing the latter, one feels pain. However, as long as this action is characterized as a moral one and the dilemma is resolvable, as it is in Yu's case, the answer to his question, "can the joy be greater than the pain?" must be affirmative. Another way of looking at it is that, as a corollary of what we say about joy, one is also motivated to act to avoid pain. In resolving a moral dilemma, a virtuous person in taking either course of action will feel some pain and so eventually will be motivated by the desire to avoid the greater pain.

My discussion thus far can also be used to respond to the second question: whether or not the Chengs' answer to the question is satisfactory after all. Liu claims that the Chengs' answer, "in a nutshell, is that I should be moral because I can find joy in being moral," and then she claims that "this answer … is not really satisfactory," as "not everyone will find joy in being moral." As I have just said, the Chengs' answer to the question why be moral is not simply that I can find joy in being moral but that only in being moral can I find a uniquely human joy; moreover, while it is true that not everyone does find joy in being moral, everyone can and should find joy in being moral. This is because, to borrow from David Wong, to have [End Page 296] joy in being moral is internal to human nature, even if it is not always internal to every individual as a matter of fact (Wong 2006, p. 196).

Here is a good place to discuss the third question: whether it is more profitable to compare the Chengs...


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pp. 295-310
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