The Moral Circle and the Self: Chinese and Western Approaches

The Moral Circle and the Self: Chinese and Western Approaches

The Moral Circle and the Self: Chinese and Western Approaches

The Moral Circle and the Self: Chinese and Western Approaches

Synopsis

If ethics encompasses not just a concern for self and family but also for a wider circle of others, what resources do Chinese and Western ethics offer to motivate and guide this expansion of concern? This question is the theme of these essays by leading Chinese and Western philosophers. The concept of rights is discussed in relation to the treatment of children, the possibility of a civil society, and attitudes toward minority populations.

Excerpt

The aim of this volume is to probe some conscious and unconscious assumptions in both Chinese and Western ethics as well as to call into question some of the ways in which both forms of ethics are commonly distinguished. the eighteen contributors (two essays are jointly written) are all professional philosophers, albeit with different interests and backgrounds. Together, they address issues at the interface of Chinese and Western ethics. the mutual engagement of the two ethical traditions brings in fresh perspectives and demands a deeper understanding of both.

The impetus for the essays is provided by the overarching question: If ethics encompasses not just a concern for self and family but also for a wider circle of others, what resources do both Chinese and Western ethics have to motivate and to guide this expansion of concern? Arguably, the Confucian emphasis on hierarchical ethical structures does not seem to encourage the development of a common humanity. On the other hand, many Western and Chinese ethicists take it for granted that the concern for self and family can expand, as if there is a unitary motivational and justificatory basis for all relationships. Some of the contributors question how such an expansion is possible and analyze the motivational resources that are said to be available in the ethical theories of both Chinese and Western ethics. Others show how philosophers like Descartes and Mencius have tried to account for the expansion of concern through their analyses of emotions like pity and compassion. the Chinese philosopher Mozi is another example of one who believed in the possibility of an expanded concern through the idea of impartial caring, and this idea is also analyzed.

Certain relationships may hinder the expansion of concern, while other relationships and social structures serve to encourage it. Friendship, for instance, may subvert wider moral concerns. On the other hand, the educational, ritualistic, aesthetic, and normative resources of a community provide the means of a wider concern. These resources include what are recognized as moral authorities. Many people are skeptical about the notion of a moral authority. However, an investigation of both Western and Chinese contexts reveals that the notion may have been misconstrued. Moral authorities play an important role in various areas of our lives, and it may well be that we have taken it for granted.

If our identities are both personal and social, one cannot know how one should live without also answering the question, "How should we live?" Family and other relations play an important part in ethics. Examinations of how . . .

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