Confucianism and Virtue Ethics: Still a Fledgling in Chinese and Comparative Philosophy

Comparative Philosophy 1 (2):55-63 (2010)
Abstract
The past couple of decades have witnessed a remarkable burst of philosophical energy and talent devoted to virtue ethical approaches to Confucianism, including several books, articles, and even high-profile workshops and conferences that make connections between Confucianism and either virtue ethics as such or moral philosophers widely regarded as virtue ethicists. Those who do not work in the combination of Chinese philosophy and ethics may wonder what all of the fuss is about. Others may be more familiar with the issues but have doubts about the fruitfulness of this line of inquiry. It is therefore worth asking whether a constructive engagement between Confucianism and virtue ethics is worth turning into a significant, multi-generational research agenda. Most answers to this question will fall somewhere between two poles. At one end is the view that the line of inquiry has run its course, if ever there were a course to run in the first place; at the opposite end is the view that we’re only just getting started. And then there is a wide range of more moderate views falling between these two positions. Far from having exhausted the potential of virtue ethical approaches to Confucianism, I think we are standing on a philosophical gold mine that we’ve only just begun to tap. In what follows I would like to explain briefly why I take this to be the case.
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