Ethics and Tradition in the "Xunzi"

Dissertation, Stanford University (1998)

This dissertation examines ethical theory and its relationship to tradition in the philosophical writings of Xunzi, a Chinese philosopher of the fourth century B. C. We begin by placing Xunzi's writings in the context of the ethical debates occurring in the early Chinese philosophical tradition. Within this tradition, Xunzi's writings constitute the last and most sophisticated defense of Confucian moral cultivation against various challenges, both internal and external to Confucianism. After explaining the context in which Xunzi writes, we develop an interpretation of Xunzi's ethical theory. Xunzi's ethical theory includes a conception of human nature, a theory of moral psychology, and an understanding of moral cultivation. When woven together, these elements create a theory that explains not only the synchronic aspects of moral agency, but also the diachronic aspects as well. Further exploring the diachronic aspects of moral agency, the last section of the dissertation examines Xunzi's use of craft metaphors to describe the relationship between tradition and ethics in his theory. Tradition and the mechanisms for transmitting ethical knowledge from generation to generation are an integral and necessary component of Xunzi's ethical theory. Without understanding the interrelationship of these various elements of Xunzi's philosophy we fail to fully appreciate his ethical theory.
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