Two Dilemmas in Virtue Ethics and How Zhu Xi's Neo-Confucianism Avoids Them

Abstract
Virtue ethics has become an important rival to deontology and consequentialism, the two dominant moral theories in modern Western philosophy. What unites various forms of virtue ethics and distinguishes virtue ethics from its rivals is its emphasis on the primacy of virtue. In this article, I start with an explanation of the primacy of virtue in virtue ethics and two dilemmas, detected by Gary Watson, that virtue ethics faces: (1) virtue ethics may maintain the primacy of virtue and thus leave virtue non-explanatory, or it may attempt to explain virtue in terms of something else and thus render virtue secondary at most; (2) the explanation of virtue may be objective and thus become morally indeterminate, or it may be normative and thus lack objectivity, merely re-expressing the virtue it intends to explain (Section II). After showing the failure of both classical Aristotelian and contemporary neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics to escape these dilemmas, I turn to the ethical theory of Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200)—the greatest synthesizer of neo-Confucianism, whose place in Confucianism is comparable to that of Thomas Aquinas in the Christian tradition—to show how it can successfully avoid both dilemmas
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