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  • A Rejoinder to Yong Huang
  • Jianping Hu (bio)

Let me begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to Professor Huang for his great work on the theory of patient moral relativism and to the editors of [End Page 482] Philosophy East and West for giving me this opportunity not only to discuss my thoughts with Professor Huang but also to clarify and further develop my critique. In this reply, I shall focus on two things: first, I will briefly summarize and explain my ideas in my previous comment; second, I will tackle Huang’s response in detail and discuss some points of disagreement.

In “Is Zhuangzi a Patient Relativist?” I argue not only that the theory of patient relativism itself is problematic but also that it is inaccurate to interpret the Zhuangzi as espousing patient moral relativism. One of the major problems of patient relativism is that it fails to provide guidance to the agent on what is right to do when there are two (or more) patients holding conflicting desires, demands, and interests. I call this the “two-patient challenge.” It has two fundamental elements: (1) an agent whose action X will simultaneously influence two patients, and (2) patients A and B, who have conflicting interests, demands, or standards on action X. Primitive as it may seem, I believe that this definition of the “two-patient challenge” covers a large number of cases across various situations. Furthermore, I find it implausible that the ethics in the Zhuangzi is a form of patient moral relativism. Some stories—for example, of the seabird and Bo Le—may indeed embody the idea of patient relativism to some degree, but it is not sufficient to claim that the ethics of the Zhuangzi is patient relativism.

Huang’s response to my “two-patient challenge” argues that my “letter-opening” example (the mother who does not know if she should open the letters between her daughter Mei, who wants the mother to open the letters, and her nephew Tom, who is against this) is not a real threat to patient relativism because it is just “a case that involves a third party.” In Huang’s view, this case is like a moderate version of the example where A wants me to kill B,1 and this issue can easily be solved by figuring out the real patient of the agent’s action and respecting his or her standards. If my understanding of Huang’s argument is correct, what he means is this: A wants me to kill B (Mei wants the mother to open the letters between Tom and Mei), and I am the patient of A’s demand of killing B (the mother is the patient of Mei’s demand of opening letters from Tom), so B (Tom) is the real patient of my killing (mother’s mail opening). As long as B does not want to be killed (Tom does not want his letters to be opened), I should not kill B (the mother should not open the letters between Mei and Tom). However, I am afraid that he overlooks the fact that in the mail-opening example, as I said in my original comment, the privacy of the mail between Mei and Tom belongs to both of them while B’s life only belongs to him or herself. By letting her mother open and read her letters from Tom, Mei, as the co-owner of the privacy, is asking her mother to do something not just to Tom, but rather to herself (Mei) and Tom. (It will be a different story if what Mei wants her mother to read is Tom’s diary.2)

In other words, Mei and Tom are both the real patients of the mother’s letter-opening action. There are no essential differences between my [End Page 483] mail-opening example and what Huang thinks is a proper example of a two-patient situation where a mother does not know if she should open a letter addressed to both her daughters (one daughter wants it to be opened by the mother but the other does not). After all, the nature of the role played by the two mothers is...


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pp. 482-488
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