In Paul R. Goldin (ed.), Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Han Fei. Springer (2013)

In much of pre-Qin political philosophy, including those thinkers usually labeled Confucian, Daoist, or Mohist, at least part of the justification of the political state comes from their views on morality, and the vision of the good ruler was quite closely tied to the vision of the good person. In an important sense, for these thinkers, political philosophy is an exercise in applied ethics. Han Fei, however, offers an interesting break from this tradition, arguing that, given the vastly different goals of moral theory and political theory, it would be disastrous to rely upon the former to undergird the latter. He develops a distinctly amoral political philosophy that avoids many of the problems he sees as arising from a reliance on particular virtues on the part of the ruler or others within the state. In this paper, I analyze the source of normativity in Han Fei’s political philosophy, arguing that he demonstrates a keen understanding of the problems inherent in any system that relies upon moral standards to develop a strong, stable, and prosperous state. Rather, he demonstrates how an understanding of human nature, along with a recognition of facts about the natural world, allows for the development of a non-moral political philosophy that relies on a systematic bureaucracy and an inviolate system of law, one which will be much more successful, he believes, than anything his competitors can construct.
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