Confucianism’s similarities to virtue ethics

5 May 2017

Isaiah Fasoldt Confucinism’s Similarities With Virtue Ethics Confucianism, the ancient social philosophy of China, would have had no ethical parallel in the West as little as 30 years ago. There are some small similarities that it holds with utilitarian ethics and deontology. There is very little in ethical egoism or relativism that lines up with Confucianism. I believe that virtue ethics, however, as laid out in Alasdair Maclntyre’s book After Virtue bears a striking resemblance to Confucianism.

One important feature of Confucianism, according to John Koller, is that it is an ssentially humanist philosophy; in other words, human beings are the ultimate source of values. This is in apposition to Supernaturalism”which claims that values ultimately come from God, and naturalism”which believes that values come from nature. Thus, Confucianism, answers the question of “How can goodness and harmony be achieved? ” by looking for exemplars and principles in humanity itself.

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This is strikingly similar to the picture that Alasdair Maclntyre paints of the world.

According to Maclntyre, most of the ethical language and arguments that are thrown around between ethicists and even everyday people is fundamentally ncomprehensible or incoherent. Ethical prescriptions used to be based on a common belief in God and the ways in which He has ordered the universe. In today’s world, however, we no longer share that common belief, but we have kept the structures and language of our old ethical systems without the foundation stones on which they were originally built.

To remedy this ailment, Maclntyre proposes going back to a kind of virtue ethics, an essentially humanist philosophy that defines virtuous behavior as what a good man would do. Like Confucianism, virtue ethics looks to neither God nor nature, but rather humanity to find the principles by which o live. Furthermore, both Confucianism and virtue ethics focus less on the rightness of actions themselves, but rather on the development of virtuous people.

Koller, notes “The Confucian idea that virtue, rather than law, should be the basis of government… “. Similarly, virtue ethics sees ethical behavior as ultimately driven by character, not by rules (deontology) or consequences (utilitarianism). Both Confucianism and virtue ethics are interested in cultivating people “skillful” in doing good as the basis of a stable society. Confucianism’s similarities to virtue ethics By ifasoldt

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