Cosmic Order and Moral Autonomy: The Rise of Confucian Ethics in Axial Age China

Dissertation, Harvard University (2000)

This dissertation is about the reflection and reinterpretation of the moral philosophy of classical Confucianism in terms of autonomy. The object of this study is to reexamine the rise of Confucian ethics during the axial age by highlighting its roots in pre-axial age China. As a reconsideration of the Jaspersian mode of the "axial age breakthrough," which emphasizes a rupture, radically breaking away from the pre-axial age civilizations, this study argues that the rise of Confucian ethics as an axial age breakthrough underscores a continuum, carrying over religious traditions from the preaxial age. Confucian moral thinking suggests a unique approach to moral autonomy by stressing an interaction between moral order and cosmic order. In other words, the Confucian moral self, while being fully aware of individual moral autonomy, dwells deeply in a dynamic cosmological belief, a fundamental pattern of the Chinese worldview inherited from the pre-Confucian era. ;Being benefited by the newly discovered bamboo texts at Guodian, Hubei Province, this study examines further the Confucian moral consciousness developed after Confucius, and reveals the cosmological continuity in the light of the metaphysical concerns sophisticatedly expressed in the texts. The conclusion of this work is thus two-fold: first, by comparing the Guodian texts with the Mencian and the Zhongyong traditions, it is explicit that the metaphysical grounding of Confucian ethics was well developed before Mencius; second, and more significantly, by connecting the Guodian texts back to Confucius, we may recover a long neglected dimension in the thinking of Confucius---the cosmo-ethical metaphysics, or, more precisely, an anthropocosmic vision of moral self
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