Early Confucianism is a System for Social-Functional Influence and Probably Does Not Represent a Normative Ethical Theory

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 14 (4):499-520 (2015)
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To the question โ€œWhat normative ethical theory does early Confucianism best represent?โ€ researchers in the history of early Confucian philosophy respond with more than half a dozen different answers. They include sentimentalism, amoralism, pragmatism, Kantianism, Aristotelian virtue theory, care ethics, and role ethics. The lack of consensus is concerning, as three considerations make clear. First, fully trained, often leading, scholars advocate each of the theories. Second, nearly all participants in the debate believe that the central feature of early Confucianism is its moral thought. However, these normative ethical theories are logically inconsistent with one another, the third point. The entailment is unavoidable: the majority of scholars of early Confucian normative ethics must be incorrect about their attributions of a normative theory to early Confucianism. It would appear, then, that we need a new dao ้“ or pathway for the study of early Confucian moral thought. One alternative is to adopt an immersively interdisciplinary research methodology that pivots on the recognition that early Confucianism is a social-functional system the governing purpose of which is to influence cultural leaders



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