Confucian ethics and virtue ethics revisitied

Wai Ying WONG

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In 2001 I published "Confucian Ethics and Virtue Ethics," which, as its title implies, discusses the relevance of Confucian ethics. The aim of that article is primarily to explain the characteristics and core concepts of Confucian ethics, rather than to define and categorize the Confucian ethical system. Since then, discussions on virtue ethics as well as on the relationship between Chinese philosophy and virtue ethics have made considrable progress; however, to my disappointment, the understanding and interpretation of Confucian ethics expressed in these discussions have often been off the mark. This article is an attempt to explain and clarify further some of the biased and inaccurate interpretations. It shares the focus of the previous article, namely, that it is not to compare the system of Confucian ethics with the ethical system of Kant, Aristotle, and Hume and then to discuss the appropriateness of categorizing Confucian ethics as Humean, Aristotelian or Kantian virtue ethics, instead, it will concentrate on examining the position of Confucian ethics with regard to the features of virtue ethics, so as to reveal its character and significance. What I would like to emphasize is that Confucian ethics should not be limited by (certain types of) "virtue ethics," thereby depriving it of its richer connotation. In "The Moral and Non-Moral Virtues in Confucian Ethics," I argued that in Confucian ethics is not confined to a narrow sense of moral system. As will be shown below, this discovery is significant to the current issue. Bryan W.Van Norden joined the debate on whether Confucianism is a kind of virtue ethics in his monograph on the early Chinese philosophy and virtue ethics. Unlike other Western philosophers, he is aware that Confucianism is "different in many respects from the forms of virtue ethics that have been dominant in the West," even though he thinks that it counts as a form of virtue ethics. In this article I will take Van Norden's discussion as an example to illustrate the central problems of the whole issue. In the present discussion I will restrict the scope of Confucian ethics to the thoughts of Confucius and of Mencius.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVirtue ethics and Confucianism
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9780415815482
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


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