Moral rules and moral experience: A comparative analysis of Dewey and laozi on morality

Asian Philosophy 11 (3):161 – 178 (2001)
Abstract
In this article, through a comparative analysis of Dewey's and Laozi's relevant accounts, I examine a pragmatic insight concerning moral rules and moral experience to the effect that (i) fixed and formulated moral rules should not be taken as the final absolute moral authority, and (ii) attention needs to be paid to the moral agent's own moral experience that responds to the felt demands in concrete situations. The purpose of this paper is to enhance understanding the crucial points of the pragmatic insight and to look at how, in certain complementary ways, Dewey's and Laozi's distinct approaches could contribute to the pragmatic insight and learn from each other. I endeavour to show several points: (1) The pragmatic insight has its distinct metaphysical foundations in Dewey's and Laozi's accounts, whose combination could enhance each other's visions and overcome each other's limitations; (2) Both Dewey and Laozi reject some sharp dualism to look at the nature of moral experience that responds to the felt demands in concrete situations; in so doing, their distinct focuses on different aspects, or developing stages, of such moral experience could be complementarily coordinated into a whole; (3) Their characterisations of the pragmatic insight are also based upon their distinct but related naturalistic perspectives to human moral foundation; Laozi's approach could provide some constructive insight for and due natural limitations on Dewey's account.
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