Early Confucian ethics and moral sentimentalism

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Michael Slote - Committee Chair


In this dissertation, the author compares early Confucian ethics with some forms of moral sentimentalism. The ethical views of two Confucian moralists, Kongzi (Confucius) and Mengzi (Mencius) are compared with Michael Slote's agent-based moral sentimentalist virtue ethics and Nel Noddings' feminine relational ethics of caring; the Confucian ethicist Xunzi's theory is compared with David Hume's classical version of moral sentimentalism. Through argumentation and theoretical reconstruction, the author attempts to establish that (1) Kongzi and Mengzi's ethical accounts are agent-based while Xunzi's is agent-prior; (2) Kongzi's notion of shu, Mengzi's concept of ceyin zhi xin, and Xunzi's idea of "inner constitution" represent different forms of empathy. The author proposes the notion of relational virtue to reconcile the virtue ethical conception of caring with the relational ethical conception of caring. Through these comparisons and the reconciliation the author emphasizes the common ground Confucian ethics shares with the moral sentimentalist tradition. This work as the whole, therefore, represents a radical departure from traditional comparative studies that tend to emphasize the affinity between early Confucian ethics and the ancient Greek tradition.



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