Leaping into the Boundless: A Daoist Reading of Comparative Religious Ethics

Journal of Religious Ethics 26 (1):139-165 (1998)

This essay seeks to step beyond the argument between ethical formalism and ethical naturalism concerning the nature of moral reason and to step outside the universalism versus relativism debate in cross-cultural studies. Its thesis is that both formalism and naturalism advance versions of moral reason that are functionaries of intellectual discussions that make sense of behavior and that such discussion should not be confused with the ostensible object of ethical inquiry-that is, with moral actions and the motivations that drive them. Daoist thought provides a comparative base from which the nature and limitation of such ethical theories can be examined. The essay concludes by suggesting that the objectification and scrutiny of our own forms of knowledge can be a specific purpose of comparative ethics, which has the virtue of making explicit the value commitments behind our intellectual theories
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