Zhu Xi and Thomas Aquinas on the Foundations of Moral Self-Cultivation

Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 77:235-246 (2003)
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Abstract

The twelfth-century Neo-Confucian philosopher, Zhu Xi, has often been compared to the thirteenth-century Christian philosopher, Thomas Aquinas. In this essay, I explore the similarities between these two thinkers, focusing on their respective accounts of the metaphysical foundations of moral self-cultivation. I suggestthat both philosophers play similar roles within their respective traditions and share similar aims. In general, both philosophers seek to appropriate ideas of rivalintellectual traditions in order to extend the moral vision of their home traditions, and both hope to achieve their goals without denying the primary orientationsof those traditions. Zhu Xi and Aquinas are shown to employ similar strategies, and to make use of similar metaphysical principles, to unite the humanistic andspiritual dimensions of moral self-cultivation into one synthetic vision. I will conclude by offering some reflections on the following questions: (1) what can the Neo-Confucian and the Thomist ethical traditions learn from one another? And (2) what can those of us engaged in inter-cultural philosophical and religiousdialogue learn from the masters of these traditions?

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