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The Confucian Analects
Human beings are fundamentally social and thus defined, in part, by the relationships into which
a person is born, into which he/she grows, and within which he/she lives.
The Five Confucian Cardinal Relationships
There is a significant difference between being a good person and doing the right thing. A bad
person, for example, might well do “the right thing.” Confucian relationships are a matter of
reciprocity or shu. The notion of Confucian friendship is a profitable comparison to the
Aristotelian notion.
Confucian Harmony
Much as Aristotelian ethics is a matter of achieving a sort of balance within the soul, so one sees
in Chinese thought an aim at a grand harmony, both individual and cosmic. Two virtues are
particularly meaningful here – ren which is a matter of fellow-feeling or benevolence and li
which is a matter of ritual propriety and appropriateness.
Confucian Role Ethics
Confucian role ethics has no Western equivalent. The Confucian does not consider abstract
individuals but places the focus of attention on concrete persons in a matrix of role relationships
with others. The ground of this ethic is “family reverence” or “family feeling” (xiao).
Contemporary versions of virtue ethics
Alasdair Macintyre is the best-known proponent of contemporary virtue ethics. Human beings
must know what they are doing when they judge and act virtuously, and they should do what is
virtuous because it is so.
1. Attempts to create good human beings rather than good acts or rules
2. Virtue ethics unifies reason and emotion. Anc and Kant separate reason/emotion
3. Emphasizes moderation and situatedness rather than absolutes or grossly relativistic
1. Do humans have a telos, an end or purpose?
2. Are morals naturally implanted?
3. What is virtue and what constitutes the virtues?
Who is the ideal virtuous person?
We all have our favorite but there is no agreement of ideal traits. Virtue ethics seems to suggest
that we merely educate the virtues creating virtuous people and moral problems are solved.
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