Confucian Moral Self Cultivation

Confucian Moral Self Cultivation

Confucian Moral Self Cultivation

Confucian Moral Self Cultivation

Excerpt

Before turning to the six individual theories which we will examine, I would like to discuss the more general question of why the Chinese originated and maintained such an enduring concern with the issue of moral self-cultivation. While certain western thinkers, notably Aristotle, were deeply interested in moral self-cultivation, this was not a central theme in the western ethical tradition. Western philosophers have been much more concerned with trying to define what the good is. Chinese thinkers have focused instead on the problem of how to become good. Moral self-cultivation is one of the most persistent and dominant issues explored by Chinese ethical thinkers. Why this is so is a complex issue, and my remarks are admittedly speculative at certain places, but we can be fairly confident that one very early notion played a central role: the concept of virtue.

The story we are interested in can be traced at least as far back as the 12th century B.C.E., the latter part of a period known as the Shang Dynasty, and is recorded on animal bones and shells that were used for divination. In the oracle bone inscriptions, we encounter an early form of a Chinese character that now is written and which in the modern Mandarin dialect is pronounced de ("virtue"). In these early Shang con-

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