Early Confucian Ethics: Concepts and Arguments

Early Confucian Ethics: Concepts and Arguments

Early Confucian Ethics: Concepts and Arguments

Early Confucian Ethics: Concepts and Arguments

Synopsis

"In Early Confucian Ethics, Kim-chong Chong re-examines the thinking of the three classical Confucians - Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi - keeping each of them distinct, and not falling into the common trap of reading Confucius and Xunzi in Mencian terms. While clearly explaining the main ethical ideas of the three sages, Chong confronts controversial scholarly issues and resolves such puzzles as why it is that Confucius declares that he rarely discourses on ren ('humanity') when in fact he repeatedly refers to it."

Excerpt

In this chapter I do for the Mencius what was done in chapter 2 for the Analects: I discuss the treatment of the concept of ren in the work. We have seen how Mencius views ren as one of the virtues developed out of the four sprouts of the heart-mind. However, we have not analyzed what ren actually means for him in practical terms. This is the task of the present chapter. Contrary to the common impression, ren is not a unitary term for Mencius. This will he clear if we situate the discussion of it within a problem for Mencius and the early Confucians—or indeed, for any moral theory, past or contemporary. This is the problem of how one is supposed to extend the love or particular regard that one feels for family members toward others. Sometimes, this may involve a conflict between family commitments and public duty. How, in such cases, should one act? What moral resources does one have to deal with such cases and how may they be resolved?

Before proceeding with my discussion, it should be noted that my discussion is not focused on Mencius 1A: 7, where Mencius tries to bring King Xuan to see that he can “extend” his compassion for an ox, toward his own people. There has been a debate on this about the nature of the reasons that can apply to this case, whether, for example, Mencius is pointing to a matter of consistency, or whether the reasons for extending compassion are more a matter of “analogical” reasoning pertaining to relevant features of particular cases. Although I shall have some comments on this example later, my discussion focuses instead on how filial love can be extended. This is how the problem of “extending” has traditionally been posed for Mencius and the Confucians generally, and that pits them against the Mohists. As we shall see, there are different motivational sources and principles at work in the Mencius that can help to address this problem. I shall also make a distinction later between “conceptual” and “empirical” issues related to the problem of extending a motivational source. There is a conceptual difficulty of extending, if it is a matter of moving from one kind of motivation to another. On the other hand, we should note that very often, the difficulty is not conceptual but empirical, as a matter of the kind of educational circumstances and training that would enable an individual to extend filial love or a particular regard to a wider social concern.

The issue of the extension of particular regard is one that the Confucians— both early and late—and their critics (for example, the Mohists and later, the . . .

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