From Metaphysics to Ethics: East and West

By Sim, May | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2015 | Go to article overview

From Metaphysics to Ethics: East and West


Sim, May, The Review of Metaphysics


AT FIRST BLUSH, it does not look as if metaphysics and ethics are related in either the Eastern or the Western philosophical traditions. Consider the Way (Dao) of the Daoist, Laozi, in his Daodejing, or the mean/equilibrium (zhong) of the Confucian text, the Zhongyong, as the source or cause of everything in pre-Qin Chinese philosophy. In itself, neither of the first principles in these rival Chinese philosophies seems to be determinate or distinct, and hence knowable, let alone offers norms for ethics. For Laozi, there is talk or existence of virtue only when the Way is lost. (1) In the Zhongyong, the mean/equilibrium exists prior to any pleasures or emotions, that is, prior to any human activities, (2) and moreover, is said to be unattainable. (3) Similarly, consider the form of the good for Plato as the first principle of truth and its rival, the primary substance or ousia for Aristotle, in ancient Greek philosophy. Both Plato's and Aristotle's first principles are unlike the sources in Daoism and early Confucianism in being distinct and knowable. But Plato's and Aristotle's first principles, like those of the Chinese, do not seem to be related to their ethics either. For Plato, the form of the good causes truth, reality, and knowledge. However, these belong to the eternal, intelligible realm of theory that is not only removed from the changeable, visible realm of ethics, but is also unreachable by actions. Similarly, Aristotle's primary substance (ousia) is the invariable object of the theoretical scientific (epistemonikon) part of the soul, rather than the variable object of the practical deliberative (logistikon) part. While the theoretical part grasps eternal truths or falsehoods, the practical part deliberates about changeable actions, which are good or bad. In short, theory and practice seem clearly separate for Plato and Aristotle. So rival representatives of both Chinese and Greek traditions seem to agree that the first principle or source is separate from, and unreachable by, human action.

Apparent affinities in these disparate rival traditions regarding the lack of relation between their metaphysics and ethics notwithstanding, I'll show that what these traditions share is the view that there is an intimate relation between metaphysics and ethics. If each of these rival representatives of ancient Chinese and Greek traditions agrees that metaphysics is bound up with ethics, such that reality determines what is ethical, examining their respective accounts of metaphysics and ethics can illuminate their strengths and weaknesses. Such a comparison can reveal how the practical can be a standard by which we assess the strength of one's metaphysics.

Let me make a fresh start by examining more carefully the metaphysics and ethics of each of the representatives of the rival traditions for the Chinese and the Greeks.

For Laozi, a representative of Daoism, the Way (Dao) is the source of all things. He says, "The Dao gives birth [sheng] to the one, the one gives birth to the two, the two gives birth to the three and the three gives birth to the ten thousand things [wanwu]." (4) Again, Laozi says that the Dao is "all pervasive. It can be on the left and the right. It gives birth to the ten thousand things and turns none away. When its work is complete, it does not claim acknowledgement. It clothes and raises them without lording over them, and it is always without desire." (5) Since the Dao exists prior to heaven and earth, Laozi also says that it can be regarded as the mother of heaven and earth. (6) It not only produces all things, but also sustains and nourishes them.

Contrary to the apparent lack of relation between Laozi's metaphysics and ethics, an important hint of their intimate connection lies in the title of Laozi's text, the Daodejing, literally the classic text (jing) of the Dao (Way) and the De (Virtue). Laozi's Dao is not only the source of all things in the cosmos but also the model of goodness for it is said to be "always on the side of the good person. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

From Metaphysics to Ethics: East and West
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.