A Comparative Study of Two Doctrines of the Mean between Aristotle and Confucius

The doctrine of the Mean owns an important academic position in ethics theories both in the Western and Eastern philosophical fields. To understand the doctrine of the Mean will benefit further study of virtuous ethical theories. Therefore, I choose this topic as an approach to studying Aristotelian and Confucian ethics theories. The methodology I have chosen is a comparative study. The literary sources are mainly from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Zhongyong, which recorded Confucius’ theories of the Mean, and Confucius’ Lunyu as well. Firstly, I went through the text in Nicomachean Ethics and found out the logic of context, in order to understand Aristotle’s idea of the Mean. Secondly, I referenced and compared some scholars’ interpretations of the doctrine of the Mean, in order to get a fuller understanding. With this approach, I know that the Mean in Aristotle’s doctrine is moral virtue itself, which is a settled intermediate state of character, towards virtuous actions. With the same structure and method, I understand the doctrine of the Mean of Confucius. To Confucius, the Mean is Heavenly nature, being Zhong – He “Equilibrium - Harmony” and Cheng – Ming “Sincerity - Intelligence”. Confucius thinks that Heaven’s nature itself is the virtue of Heaven because it is innately good, so the doctrine of the Mean is a theory of virtue as well. To be virtuous, a man should become one with Heaven and Earth. A comparative methodology has two benefits. One benefit is that it works as a mirroring function. By mirroring each other, we can see various differences more clearly. For instance, at the end of this paper, one can see that the ways to becoming a virtuous person can vary. Aristotle, for example, argues for the neutral natures of men, while Confucius’ ethics theory is based on a claim of innate good natures of men. With acknowledging this difference, we can better understand their ethical theories. The other benefit is we can integrate with broader phenomenon to research, complete the methodology that we have used and open up approaches by a comparative way. Apparently, Aristotle and Confucius have come up with a similar theory utilizes different approaches and methodologies, and also they were focusing on different facts that existed in different eras and places. So, looking through their theories and then comparing them, we can find more sources to analyze along with double approaches and methods to understand the Mean, especially with these two typical theories in both West and East as the theories of Aristotle and Confucius’. In the end, to compare Aristotle and Confucius’ theories is aiming to find a true knowledge of humanity. Although there are some objections to the possibility of this comparison, like Alasdair MacIntyre who described it as “incommensurability”, I believe that the truth can be found, no matter the methodologies, approaches and sources used.
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